August is here and that means college football season is starting soon. The first games of the 2017 season kick off Aug. 26. And as it quickly approaches, we have 25 days to preview each of the 25 teams in our updated Dr. Saturday 2017 preseason poll. Check here every day to find out who we think the 25 best teams in the country will be. Fair warning, however. We’re probably going to be wrong.
No. 19 KANSAS STATE
2016 record: 9-4
Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense
Biggest non-conference game: Sep. 16 at Vanderbilt
Biggest conference game: Oct. 21 vs. Oklahoma
Key returning player: QB Jesse Ertz
Key departed player: DE Jordan Willis
Three things to know about Kansas State
• Kansas State generally overachieves compared to preseason predictions. So we’re fully prepared for the Wildcats to be a top-15 team at the end of the season given where we’re ranking them in August.
A big reason for putting Kansas State here is quarterback Jesse Ertz, who may be the best quarterback you haven’t heard of.
Ertz’s passing stats weren’t mindblowing in 2016. He was 152-264 for 1,755 yards and threw nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Pretty pedestrian. But Ertz was also Kansas State’s leading rusher, running for 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns a year ago. His best game came against Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl, as he was 14-20 passing for 195 yards.
His passing stats were also depressed by a shoulder injury he suffered vs. Oklahoma. He had offseason shoulder surgery and ended up missing spring practices. Ertz should be fully healthy for Kansas State’s season-opener vs. Central Arkansas on Sep. 2 and his passing numbers should be far different with a shoulder that’s 100 percent.
“Since that time, he’s gotten stronger and stronger and stronger, and I think he readily admits right now that he’s throwing the ball better than he ever has,” Kansas State coach and head wizard Bill Snyder said in July of Ertz’s progress from shoulder surgery. “The players tell me in their workouts that he’s throwing the ball as hard and accurately as he has at any time in his career that they can remember. They’re going to tell me the truth, and I trust that.”
• Ertz is also bolstered by the return of Kansas State’s two most dynamic receivers. Both Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath return in 2017. Pringle was the team’s leading receiver with 39 catches for 631 yards — an average of 16.2 yards a catch. Heath had 45 catches for 438 yards. The two players caught seven of Kansas State’s 10 passing touchdowns and Isaiah Zuber, who caught two, is also back.
Pringle’s explosiveness was on full display in that Texas Bowl too, as he took a short pass from Ertz 79 yards for a score. He should be one of the better wide receivers in the Big 12 this season even though he’s not operating in an offense as wide-open as Oklahoma State or Oklahoma’s.
• While KSU should be pretty set on offense, there are a couple questions to answer on defense. Gone is LB Elijah Lee, the team’s leading tackler a year ago. DE Jordan Willis is also off to the NFL; he had 11.5 sacks of Kansas State’s 30 sacks in 2016.
DE Reggie Walker is well-positioned to take Willis’ place as KSU’s sack leader. Walker had 6.5 sacks a year ago a freshman.
The Wildcats return three of four starters in the defensive backfield including corner D.J. Reed, who had 75 tackles — the second-most on the team — and a crazy 16 passes broken up to go along with three interceptions in 2017. The should-be-even-better pass defense is another reason why Kansas State is picked near the top of the Big 12 in 2017 after being predicted in the bottom half of the conference the previous two seasons.
If it’s going to challenge for the Big 12, KSU must take care of business at home vs. TCU and Oklahoma. The Wildcats play at Oklahoma State and at Texas, though the latter game shouldn’t be too much of an issue given Snyder’s recent history.
Kansas State is 9-4 vs. Texas since the Longhorns joined the Big 12. KSU is the only team to have a winning conference record vs. Texas.
“We’ve never approached a season any differently, one any differently than another, whether that be right or wrong,” Snyder said. “And the idea that, if you do have a certain number of people returning — which we have a reasonably large number returning, players, starters in the program — it’s not about who you have back or how many you have back, it’s really about how you prepare yourself game by game. That’s the important thing for us.
“My caution to our players and to anybody that would listen would be not take anything for granted. You still have to do it. The old adage you still have to play the game. You still have to practice every single day. If you’re not doing anything to get yourself better, then you’re putting yourself and your teammates in jeopardy.”
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