The next team in our Opponent Preview Series is the 2022 Big 12 Champion Kansas State Wildcats. K-State is the second-highest-ranked Big 12 team in the AP Top 25 at 16, one spot ahead of the Horned Frogs, and is coming off of a great 2022 where they finished 10-4 with an appearance in the Sugar Bowl. While the Wildcats lost their two best offensive weapons this offseason, they return talent on the defensive side of the ball along with their best offensive lineman and Will Howard, their starting quarterback.
TCU’s Record Against Kansas State: 8-9
Current Streak: TCU has lost one straight against Kansas State
Most Recent Matchup: Kansas State won 31-28 (OT) in the 2022 Big 12 Championship Game
The biggest loss the Wildcats suffered this offseason was the departure of star running back Deuce Vaughn to the NFL Draft. The 2022 first team All American did it all for Kansas State during his time there as the offense ran through him. Vaughn had almost 300 carries in 2022 and racked up 1,558 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground. He was also a dynamic threat in the passing game as he caught 42 passes for 378 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Wildcats will have a huge hole to fill on the offensive side of the ball having lost one of the most dynamic players in college football this offseason
Kansas State came into the 2022 season expecting Adrian Martinez to be the quarterback to lead them throughout the year. Martinez had a solid start to the year but was injured about halfway through, giving Will Howard an opportunity in which he took full advantage. Despite only attempting passes in seven games in 2022, Howard threw for 1,633 yards and 15 touchdowns with only four interceptions on just under 200 pass attempts. Howard fits the mold of a true pocket passer, standing at 6 foot 5, great size for a quarterback.
Unlike many K-State quarterbacks from the past, Howard does not contribute much to the rushing attack as his longest rushing attempt in 2022 was 14 yards and only totaled 35 yards on the season. Howard projects to be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12 as well as the nation next year. His success will largely determine the direction of the season for the Wildcats since they will be without a stable group of returning weapons to serve as a crutch for the offense.
Howard will be without his top target from 2022, Malik Knowles left for the NFL this offseason after amassing 725 yards and two touchdowns through the air along with 164 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Phillip Brooks, the second leading receiver for K-State in 2022, will be returning and appears primed for a monster senior season.
Standing at 5 foot 8 and weighing in at 171 pounds, Brooks fits the mold of Wildcat offensive weapons that are undersized, but electric in the open field. Brooks caught 45 passes for 587 yards and four touchdowns while also serving as the punt and kick returner for Kansas State. Brooks continued the tradition of special teams success at K-State in 2022 when he returned a punt to the house for a score.
Another returning target for Howard is first-team preseason All-Big 12 fullback/h-back/tight end Ben Sinnott. Sinnott is as reliable as it comes on the blocking front and is a very capable target in the passing game, especially in the red zone where his solid frame allows him to make contested catches over the middle.
The junior stands at 6 foot 4 and weighs 245 pounds, ideal size for a Swiss Army knife for the Wildcats that can lead block in the run game, pick up blitzes in pass protection, and box out defenders to make catches in traffic. Sinnott had a strong 2022 with 31 catches for 447 yards and 4 touchdowns and should see an expanded role in their offense for 2023.
The patience + vision from Treshaun Ward pic.twitter.com/UZdgOC927d— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) November 19, 2022
The Wildcats had a hole to fill in the backfield with the departure of Vaughn, so Chris Klieman turned to the transfer portal and landed former Florida State Seminole Treshaun Ward. Ward was second on FSU in rushing in 2022 with 95 carries for 628 yards and seven touchdowns. Ward did not have a large role in the passing game this past season but showed the ability to be a threat in that area with a strong 2021 receiving wise with 21 catches for 185 yards and one touchdown.
Ward will have the benefit of running behind what should be a dominant offensive line and an increase in production is likely with the expanded role and a more run-heavy scheme. K-State also returns sophomore DJ Giddens who was solid in the backup role last year with 89 carries for 518 yards and 6 touchdowns. Giddens is a solid running back who could make for a very interesting position battle with Ward this fall.
Without a doubt, the biggest strength of the K-State offense in 2023 will be their offensive line. The Wildcats return all five starters from a very good unit in 2022 including 2022 Offensive Lineman of the Year, Cooper Beebe. The 2022 ESPN First Team All-American is a people mover at left guard who will anchor the Wildcats’ offensive line. The senior from Kansas City projects to be one of the top interior offensive linemen in the 2024 NFL Draft.
The Wildcats suffered a huge loss on the defensive side of the ball as well this offseason when Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Felix Anudike-Uzomoah was picked in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Anudike-Uzomoah had a monster 2022 with eight and a half sacks and 46 total tackles along with two forced fumbles making his production very hard to replicate.
One of the players tasked with making up for this lost production is senior Brendan Mott. Mott was second on the team in sacks in 2022 with six and will need to have an even better 2023 to prevent a large drop-off in the Wildcat defense this upcoming season.
Mott has good size, standing 6 foot 5 and is a solid run-stopper in addition to his pass-rushing production. Mott will be crucial to the success of the defense since pass rushing will be at a premium in a league with a number of very dangerous quarterbacks and passing attacks.
K-State also returns preseason First Team All-Big 12 defensive back Kobe Savage who had an excellent 2022 with three interceptions and 58 total tackles. Savage will be the point of stability in a secondary experiencing a lot of change since both starting cornerbacks from 2022 are now gone as well as two safeties in Drake Cheatum and Josh Hayes that were both very important pieces on the back end.
The defensive potion group experiencing the least amount of turnover in personnel is the linebacker corps that returns both Austin Moore and Daniel Green. Moore led Kansas State in tackles this past season with 87 along with one and a half sacks and one interception. Green had a great 2022 as well with 58 total tackles, two sacks, and two picks. The heartbeat of the defense will be the linebackers and the two veterans will have to do a good job not only making plays but also getting a lot of new faces on the same page from play to play.
Linebackers are a big part of the pre-snap communication for a defense and having two returning starters at the position will be a big help for a defense trying to find new playmakers in the secondary and on the line.
Matchup with TCU: The Frogs split their matchups with the Wildcats in 2022 in two thrilling games. Both teams lost a large amount of talent in the offseason as the 2022 squads were veteran filled on both sides. The Frogs do have the advantage of much more continuity on the defensive side of the ball while the Wildcats return their starting quarterback and offensive line giving them the advantage on that side of the ball.
That being said, I think the loss of Deuce Vaughn is going to hurt worse than people think as he created opportunities for the rest of the offense just from the attention he drew from opposing defenses. Knowles was a very solid receiver as well and the loss of him along with Kade Warner leaves the receiving corps looking very depleted with no real options for replacements outside of Phillip Brooks. The pass rush is going to get much worse and the only proven commodity on the defense is going to be the linebackers which is continually getting devalued as a position group as defenses move towards more nickel and dime personnel packages.
Playing in Manhattan, Kansas is certainly an advantage for the Wildcats but I think the Frogs have a better chance to replace their losses at the skill positions than Kansas State does. I think TCU wins in the Little Apple as K-State’s defense takes a significant step back in 2023.
Prediction: TCU wins 42-38