Head coach Bill Snyder returned to the sideline from a three-year retirement last season in an attempt to revitalize a K-State program that he had built into a national power during his first tenure. After being predicted by many to finish fifth or as low as sixth in the Big 12 North Division last year, Snyder and the 2009 Wildcat football team refuted the prognosticators and ended the regular season with an opportunity to win the Big 12 North and advance to the program's first Big 12 Championship appearance since 2003. In fact, K-State played for the north division title in its final regular season game at Nebraska.
Though the Cats came up just short of a title game berth following a close loss, last year's squad finished tied for second in the Big 12 North at 4-4 in the conference and had a 6-6 overall record. But it wasn't enough to become bowl-eligible due to two of those six wins coming against FCS opponents.
However, there is reason for optimism in 2010 as a large nucleus of lettermen return, including several returning starters on both sides of the ball, for Snyder and company. The legendary head coach will begin his 19th season at the helm of the Kansas State program and look to build upon the success of last season and take the Wildcats back to their first bowl game since the 2006 season. The addition of many new faces to the Wildcat football team will also provide for several starting opportunities on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
After the 2009 squad averaged 349 yards of offense a game, co-offensive coordinators Dana Dimel and Del Miller return to help lead a Wildcat offensive unit that will see five returning starters as well as a few new faces entering spring practice. The K-State offense will welcome back four starting offensive linemen and senior All-America candidate Daniel Thomas at running back. The Cats will break in a new quarterback following the graduation of Grant Gregory, but with depth along the offensive line and new playmakers at the tight end and wide receiver positions, the 2010 Wildcat offense has the ingredients to make steady progress this spring.
After 2009 saw fifth-year senior Grant Gregory guide the Wildcats for a majority of the season, the Wildcats will have as many as four different individuals compete for the starting quarterback position this spring. Senior Carson Coffman has the most experience of the group, while sophomore Collin Klein and junior Sammuel Lamur join the competition for the starting position. Coffman, who saw action in six games during the 2009 season including starts in the first four, completed 61-percent of his passes for 860 total yards and two touchdowns.
Both Klein and Lamur are considered dual-threats, as Klein saw action in 12 games last season at wide receiver with six catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. Lamur is a very athletic option and is ready to compete for the job following a redshirt season in 2009.
Also in the mix at the position are sophomore Ryan Manes and freshmen Billy Cosh and Ty Zimmerman.
After a breakout season, Daniel Thomas returns for his senior campaign as one of the top running backs in the Big 12 Conference and the nation.
A Doak Walker Award candidate and the 2009 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, Thomas started all 12 games in 2009 and led the Big 12 Conference with the fourth-highest rushing total in school history with 1,265 rushing yards and a Big 12-high 11 rushing touchdowns. Thomas' 1,265 rushing yards ranked as the second-highest total by a K-State junior and he became the fourth-fastest in school history to reach the 1,000-yard plateau in a season (10th game). His 105.4 yards per game ranked 21st in the nation and led the Big 12. He also tallied five 100-yard rushing games, which were the most since James Johnson recorded five during the 2007 season.
The Hilliard, Fla., product was a versatile piece of the K-State offense in his first season with the Wildcats. His 128.9 all-purpose yards per game ranked fifth in the Big 12 and his 1,547 all-purpose yards rank tied for 11th in school history for a single season.
Joining Thomas in the backfield last season was sophomore fullback Braden Wilson. The native of Smith Center, Kan., played in all 12 games last season and helped pave the way for Thomas' breakout first season with crushing lead blocks. Wilson tallied eight yards on three carries last season while also hauling in four passes for 33 yards.
Behind Thomas on the K-State spring backfield depth chart are an inexperienced trio of senior William Powell and redshirt freshmen John Hubert and Tim Flanders. All three players are talented and bring different strengths to the table, but all three have yet to register a collegiate carry.
The wide receiver position will feature several new faces this season after losing several key individuals. A pair of Division I transfers will make their Wildcat debuts in 2010 after sitting out last season. Chris Harper and Brodrick Smith will look to make an immediate impact after transferring from Oregon and Minnesota, respectively, and fill the void of departed seniors Brandon Banks and Attrail Snipes. The Cats may have lost a majority of their statistical leaders at the position from a year ago, but the group certainly has the experience and talent to put up the kind of numbers position coach Michael Smith would like to see.
Returning to the edges of the K-State offense this season are seniors Adrian Hilburn and Aubrey Quarles after redshirt seasons. Tramaine Thompson, Devin Gfeller, and sophomore transfer Gage McKinnis look to add depth to the position.
Following the graduation of All-Big 12 performer Jeron Mastrud, there will be a new face at the tight end spot when the Cats take the field in 2010. Looking to take over where Mastrud left off is sophomore Travis Tannahill. The native of Olathe, Kan., saw action in 12 games last season, ending the year with 2 receptions and 37 receiving yards in his rookie season with the Wildcats.
Also competing for playing time will be juniors Gabe Gantz and Jeremy Sutton, freshman Andre McDonald and freshman Zach Trujillo.
Despite the graduation of Nick Stringer, the Kansas State offensive line in 2010 could be the biggest strength of the entire offense as it returns four starters from last season, three of whom will be seniors.
Seniors Zach Kendall, Wade Weibert and Kenneth Mayfield look to lead the offensive line this year after having a combined 34 starts between them last season. In addition to the seniors, juniors Zach Hanson and Clyde Aufner continue to provide help at each of the tackle spots this year.
Also expected to challenge for starting roles this year are Colton Freeze, Ethan Douglas and Trevor Viers, while redshirt freshmen Keenan Taylor and Cornelius Lucas have continued to develop over the past year.
The 2010 Kansas State defense returns seven starters from last year's squad, which finished 2009 as one of the most improved units in the conference and the nation. Overall, K-State improved its scoring defense from tied for 10th in the Big 12 (35.8 points per game allowed) in 2008 to seventh in the league (23.3 ppg allowed) and improved its rushing defense from 11th (217.7 rushing yards per game allowed) in the 2008 season to fifth (105.4 rushing yards per game allowed) in 2009. It also bumped its pass defense from eighth in the league (261.4 passing yards allowed) in 2008 to seventh in the conference (234.5 passing yards allowed).
Chris Cosh returns for his second season as the leader of the defense, his first as the sole defensive coordinator, and will look to continue the daily improvement and progress of the unit, which returns two of the team's top four tacklers from a year ago.
As spring practice gets underway, K-State looks to replace two leaders on the defensive line after the graduation of defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald and tackle Daniel Calvin.
During the 2009 season, Fitzgerald started all 12 games for the Wildcats, with 11 of those at defensive end and one at defensive tackle. As an impactful part of the defense, Fitzgerald recorded 40 tackles during the year and led the team in tackles for loss with 10 and in sacks with seven. Calvin provided help on the defense as well, starting 11 games at defensive tackle. He finished the season with 31 total tackles, including two sacks. Raphael Guidry returns in the middle after coming off a season in which he started six games at tackle. A junior, Guidry looks to improve on his numbers at the position again this season as he finished 2009 with 19 total tackles, two tackles for losses, and a half sack.
Prizell Brown, a converted tight end, also returns in the middle after starting five games and recording 10 tackles and half a sack last season.
With two starters from the line gone, K-State still returns a proven defensive end in junior Brandon Harold. After being selected as a first team freshman All-American by College Football News and Sporting News during the 2008 season, Harold was hampered by injuries in 2009 but looks to be back at full strength as the Wildcats take the field in 2010.
Other players who will provide depth along the line are seniors Prizell Brown, Josh Berard, and Antonio Felder. Berard notched six tackles and a sack, while Felder started eight games at end last year and had seven tackles for loss and three sacks total. With several players capable of putting in time at the line, including newcomers Ray Kibble and Javonta Boyd, spring practice will see some good competition in this area.
After the graduation of linebackers Ulla Pomele and John Houlik, K-State will look to give more experience to several younger players as they take over for the changes made at this position.
Pomele and Houlik played some of the biggest roles for the Cats last year, with Pomele being third on the team in total tackles with 55. He also recorded four tackles for loss and one sack. Houlik played his own big role, getting all 12 starts at linebacker for the team in 2009, and was shortly behind Pomele with 51 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss including a sack, and one interception.
To help fill spots left by this pair, K-State will use Alex Hrebec, Kadero Terrell and Kevin Rohleder as some possible options heading into 2010.
Hrebec started three games at linebacker last season and had 32 total tackles and four tackles for losses. Terrell will see his first action on the field this season, after sitting out last year due to injury after transferring from Garden City Community College.
Rohleder notched 29 tackles in his first extensive action as a Wildcat.
There will be more depth at the position which includes senior Jarett Wright and sophomores Jarell Childs and Blake Slaughter. Childs will be making the transition from running back, as he tallied 13 carries for 79 yards in his freshman season. Slaughter saw action in nine games and notched three tackles, while redshirt freshman Clarence Bumpas will also challenge for playing time at either linebacker or the Bandit defensive end spot.
The Wildcat secondary returns three starters from an improved unit in 2009, including senior safety Troy Butler and junior safeties Emmanuel Lamur and Tysyn Hartman. The trio will look to build on a strong 2009 seasons and provide leadership from the back of the K-State defense.
Butler ranked sixth on the squad in total tackles with 46, including five tackles for loss. He also added two pass breakups and a fumble recovery to his final stat line. Hartman, who earned All-Big 12 honors both on the field and in the classrooom, had 54 total tackles and five interceptions to rank fourth on the team in total tackles in 2009. His five interceptions were tied for fourth in the Big 12 last season and were the most by a Wildcat since James McGill pulled in six during the 2003 season.
Lamur had a great debut season in 2009 and was the Wildcats' total tackle leader with 68 on the year. He also had three interceptions and led the team with two blocked kicks, including a game-winning blocked extra point against Iowa State at the game at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Wildcats will also look towards sophomores Thomas Ferguson and Roman Fields during spring practice for added depth.
Other players who look to gain starting spots include seniors Stephen Harrison and Terrance Sweeney and juniors Logan Dold and David Garrett. Garrett started four games at one of the corner spots a year ago, while Harrison started eight contests. Sweeney and Dold each saw time in a reserve role.
K-State returns several key members from last year's special teams units, including senior kicker Josh Cherry and senior long snapper Corey Adams in an area that looks to see continued improvement and success in 2010.
Cherry has a strong hold on place kicking duties after he finished the Big 12 campaign ranked third in league contest for made field goals with 11. After a rough start to the 2009 season, Cherry connected on 12 of his last 15 attempts. Looking to challenge Cherry for place kicking duties and provide depth will be sophomores Anthony Cantele and Brandon Klimek.
Sophomore Ryan Doerr returns as K-State's punter in 2010 after finishing the season with an average punt of 41.2 yards, ranking 7th in the Big 12 in this area. Senior D.J. Fulhage punted 16 times a year ago and served as a short-yardage punt specialist. He downed opponents inside their 20-yard line 11 times, while 14 of his 16 punts were not returned.
Senior George Pierson also looks to offer some help in the punting game.
At the long-snapper position, Adams returns for his final year in a Wildcat uniform as he looks to continue his dominance as one of the nation's best players at that position. An All-America candidate, Adams has been perfect on a total of 356 combined snaps during his three-year career.
The Wildcats will need to replace All-American Brandon Banks in the return game, but several options are available and should allow the Cats to continue its special teams dominance.
Daniel Thomas, Hartman, Hubert and Tramaine Thompson are all capable returners for both punts and kickoffs with Thompson possessing the best track speed of the group. Hartman was solid on punt returns last season, averaging 13.1 yards per return.