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2021 Kansas State college football preview: Is this team any good?

When healthy, are the Wildcats the team that beat Oklahoma on the road last year, or the one that lost five in a row to end 2020?

Running back Deuce Vaughn of the Kansas State Wildcats runs up field against the Texas Longhorns during the second half at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium on December 5, 2020 in Manhattan, Kansas. Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

You might not find another team in FBS that had more of a roller coaster season than the Kansas State Wildcats. After opening the year at home and losing to Arkansas State of the Sun Belt (who finished 4-7 in 2020), they bounced back and beat No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman 38-35 in one of the biggest upsets of the season anywhere.

And it was going well as they were 4-0 at one point in the Big 12, but lost their last five games, including a 69-31 seal clubbing at home by Texas to finish the season and miss a bowl.

So who is this team: One with some deep talent at the skill positions, or one with not much of a chance to compete in the Big 12 due to a lack of high-star recruits? Chris Klieman will continue to answer those questions in 2021.

2020 Season Review

  • 4-6, 4-5 Big 12 (7th). No bowl game.
  • Lost last five games of the season

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 54th
ESPN Returning Production: 72% overall (58th): 81% offense (35th), 64% defense (87th)
Returning Talent Index: Negative, 8th in Big 12
Returning starters: 11/11 offense, 6/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Players

Quarterback: Will Howard (Sophomore)

Took the job from an injured Skylar Thompson, but despite Thompson being able to return he might have done enough to keep it. Struggled being thrown to the wolves with a 1,178 and just eight touchdowns against 10 interceptions for the season, but improved as the season continued. Against Texas in the finale, was 16-27 with two TD’s and two INT’s, but also had 18 carries for 79 yards

Offense (non-QB): RB Deuce Vaughn (Sophomore)

Pro Football Focus has him as the No. 2 returning running back in the country, and it’s easy to see why. 123 for 642 yards and seven touchdowns is good, but adding in 25 for 4341 and two scores as a receiver he becomes a true difference-maker. The Wildcats will need him to stay healthy to have a chance this season.

Defense: DB Jahron McPherson (Senior)

The Honorable Mention All-Big 12 performer had 54 tackles on the season, and was the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week for an outstanding performance against No. 3 Oklahoma: 11 tackles, a forced fumble, and an INT of Spencer Rattler to seal the win.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 70th overall: 71st offense, 65th defense, 66th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 56th overall: 64th offense, 56th defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +50000
To win Big 12: +2800
Win total: 5.5 (Over -139, Under +110)

2020 Against The Spread: 6-4
2020 Point Total: Over 6-4

2021 Kansas State Schedule

2021 Kansas State Wildcats schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 vs. Stanford (AT&T Stadium, Dallas) 12:00 p.m./FS1 N/A
Saturday, Sep. 11 vs. Southern Illinois 7:00 p.m./ESPN+ N/A
Saturday, Sep. 18 vs. Nevada TBA N/A
Saturday, Sep. 25 at Oklahoma State TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 2 vs. Oklahoma TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 9 BYE TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 16 vs. Iowa State TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 23 at Texas Tech TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 30 vs. TCU TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 6 at Kansas TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 13 vs. West Virginia TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 20 vs. Baylor TBA N/A
Saturday. Nov. 27 at Texas 12:00 p.m./Fox N/A