The least you should know about the 2011 Wildcats. Part of Big 12 Week.
• We'll leave a light on for you. As usual, this fall's edition enthusiastically embraces Kansas State's reputation as Transfer Junction: The Wildcats inked ten junior college transfers in February, bringing the total number of refugees from other schools on the current roster to 41 (35 jucos, 6 from other FBS schools). It's entirely possible this fall that the starting quarterback (whoever that may be; see below), starting tailback, two of the top three receivers and at least half the starting defense — at times, the entire front four and possibly the entire front seven will be an all-juco affair — all found K-State waiting patiently at the end of a one or two-year detour through somewhere else.
• What can Brown do for you? Of course, two of those transfers have generated slightly more interest than the others. Now that they've been absolved by the NCAA of their presence on the periphery of the bomb that just fell on Miami, prodigal brothers Arthur and Bryce Brown can go back to fueling optimism as the most celebrated talents to ever appear in a Wildcat uniform. Arthur was the first five-star recruit ever out of the state of Kansas in 2008; Bryce managed to generate even more hype a year later, which only added to the baggage when they proceeded to wash out of Miami and Tennessee, respectively, with the "BUST" label following them all the way home.
Still, the stage is set for both to succeed, especially Bryce. Two years removed from the recruiting circus, he's bringing his 6-foot, 220-pound frame to an offense that's no stranger to transfers or big backs: Outgoing 225-pounder Daniel Thomas led the Big 12 in carries and rushing yards two years in a row out of junior college, with a league-best 19 touchdowns last year and 13 career 100-yard games to his credit. Within the conference, only Nebraska ran the ball more often, and the Cornhuskers split their carries evenly between three different backs; K-State leaned overwhelmingly on Thomas, with a little help from a pair of alternating quarterbacks, to the extent he eventually logged about seven times as many carries for the year (298) as the rest of the Wildcat running backs combined (42, mostly in garbage time).
Brown is cut from the same slab of marble and is in line to become the same kind of 20-carry-per-game workhorse, with (allegedly) another gear in the open field that Thomas didn't have. Given three years of eligibility still in front of him and most of the drama apparently in the rearview, there's nothing stopping Bryce from being the player the scouts imagined him to be except Bryce. (Well, Bryce and a largely rebuilding offensive line. But mainly Bryce.)
• Dueling quarterbacks. The quarterback job vacated by outgoing senior Carson Coffman looked like it could be heading into juco hands, as well, belonging to either Justin Tuggle (a former starter for Boston College) or the enticingly athletic Sammuel Lamur. Instead, it seems to have fallen into the death grip of junior Collin Klein, another athletic sort who's spent much of his first three seasons on campus as a wide receiver. Klein did get to throw a handful of passes last year, but even as a starter, he's a runner: He carried 25 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns in a November win over Texas, 18 times for 141 yards at Missouri a week later and finished as the second-leading rusher on the team behind Thomas.
Bill Snyder's best teams in the Wildcats' late-nineties / early-aughts heyday were all led by run-first option types — see: Michael Bishop, Jonathan Beasley, Ell Roberson — and Klein has the opportunity to play the same role with Brown accompanying as the hammer.
• Nowhere to go but up. Arthur Brown's presence at middle linebacker may be the only hope for the run defense, which was such a catastrophe in 2010 that even standard regression to the mean leaves the situation at "dire." Last year it was completely untenable: Eight different teams racked up at least 200 yards on the ground, most of them well over 200 yards, including a 451-yard, five-touchdown embarrassment against Nebraska on national television and a 298-yard, three-touchdown outburst by North Texas in a too-close-for-comfort K-State win in the regular season finale.
The only Big 12 attack that didn't gut the Wildcats like dead fish on the ground? Kansas, the worst rushing attack in the league. If Brown doesn't make the difference in the middle, it's going to be another bloodbath.