K-State begins search for new starting quarterback
There was no doubt who would be the quarterback at Kansas State last season.
Collin Klein had led the Wildcats to the Cotton Bowl the previous year, when he proved to be one of the most dynamic playmakers in the Big 12. And he only improved last season, when he helped Kansas State win its first conference championship since 2003 and earn a Fiesta Bowl berth.
The Heisman Trophy finalist has graduated, though, and now there's a massive question at the most important position on the field: Who will be under center next season?
Will it be Daniel Sams, the athletic quarterback who played behind Klein in mop-duty last season? Or will it be Jake Waters, who emerged as the nation's top junior college quarterback while leading Iowa Western Community College to a national championship last season?
"I've been pleased with the progress they're making. Not necessarily with the consistency,'' said Bill Snyder, who was the runaway choice as Big 12 coach of the year last season. "It's just a matter of doing some of the things that they do on a very regular and consistent basis.''
The two quarterbacks are working toward Kansas State's annual spring game April 27.
"Both of them are taking repetitions with the number-one unit for the first time in their careers,'' Snyder said. "I am proud of Daniel, even though Jake is making it very competitive for him, he is doing all that he can to help Jake. Jake is a bright young guy and picks things up very quickly. It is just about the consistency and being able to do it the same way every time.''
That consistency is part of what made Klein so valuable.
Sams and Waters will be trying to replace a quarterback who accounted for more than 6,500 yards and led the program to 21 victories the past two seasons, helping to put Kansas State back on the college football map after a few seasons of mediocrity under former coach Ron Prince.
Sams only threw eight passes last season, completing six of them. But he also ran 32 times for 235 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman, showing the kind of speed and elusiveness that would seemingly make him the ideal fit for Snyder's read-option offense.
Waters, meanwhile, chose the Wildcats over interest from Penn State after throwing for more than 3,500 yards with 39 touchdown passes and just three interceptions last season. He also showed some elusiveness, running 52 times for 256 yards and six TDs, but appears to be the more polished passer of the two quarterbacks in the running for the starting job.
"He's a smart guy and is picking up things a lot quicker than I expected him to,'' said wide receiver Tramaine Thompson. "Daniel has been helping him out a lot, and they have been kind of helping each other out through this whole process.
"It's not like there's any animosity between the two. They work together,'' Thompson said. "They realize that pushing each other is going to make them better in the long run.''
Whoever lands the starting job should have plenty of help on offense.
The Wildcats return all five starters on the offensive line from a year ago, and four of the top six wide receivers - including breakout star Tyler Lockett - are still hanging around. Running back John Hubert is also back after running for 947 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Defense is another matter. The only returning starters are linebacker Tre Walker and safety Ty Zimmerman, which means Kansas State will be trying to find an entirely new defensive line, two new cornerbacks, a new safety and linebackers to replace Jarrell Childs and Arthur Brown.
""We want to be back where we were before, Big 12 champions, but it's definitely going to take a lot of work,'' said Walker, who is back after sustaining a season-ending knee injury last year.
"If we get back to the drawing board and not so much worry about where we were last year, but focus on what we want to become, I think we'll be fine,'' he said. "It's going to take a lot of workouts and building together. We have a new bond and a new team, but we will be successful.''