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Big 12 Prediction: Kansas State Is the Cream of the Crop


Kansas State Wildcats
© Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

The quest for the championship of the new-look Big 12 Conference promises to be dramatic and hotly contested in 2024.


With Colorado returning to the fold and the addition of Utah, Arizona and Arizona State, the expanded conference features 16 teams. Defending conference champion Texas is now in the Southeastern Conference, along with former Big 12 stalwart Oklahoma. As a result of this realignment, new rivalries are sure to be introduced while old rivalries are renewed.



According to CBS Sports, Kansas State has the best odds of winning the conference championship. The Wildcats' odds are +350. The team with the longest odds is BYU at +12,000. The conference championship game is scheduled on Dec. 7 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Along with K-State, the Utah Utes are a front-running contestant to reach the championship game.


The qualifications and prospects of Kansas State to conquer the Big 12 are explored in this article.


Big 12 — Kansas State Wildcats
© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Rankings

Five Big 12 teams are ranked in ESPN's preseason Top 25 poll: Utah is No. 9, K-State is No. 17, Oklahoma State is No. 19, Arizona is No. 20 and Kansas is No. 22. This is an impressive showing of conference strength. Only the SEC and Big Ten Conference have more teams in the top 25, with eight and six, respectively. Like the Big 12, the Atlantic Coast Conference has five top-ranked teams.


Kansas State Wildcats — Mascot and Team
© Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The team that wins the Big 12 will be headed for the College Football Playoff. The conference runner-up will probably also be destined for the playoff.


Kansas State's Schedule

The Wildcats have a reasonably favorable schedule. Only three of their opponents—Arizona, Oklahoma State and Kansas—are in the preseason top 25. Relative strength of schedule may explain why Kansas State is the betting favorite to win the Big 12 despite Utah's No. 9 preseason ranking.



Here is the Wildcats' 2024 schedule:



No team on the schedule is ranked higher than the Wildcats in the preseason poll. Hence, they might be favored in all of their games.


Utah looks to be one of the Wildcats' toughest challengers for the Big 12 crown. As noted, the Utes are ranked No. 9 in the preseason poll. The Wildcats and Utah do not meet in the regular season, but the teams could likely meet in the conference championship game. Indeed, College Football News forecasts that K-State will be "right there in the mix for the Big 12 title."


K-State Playmakers

Coach Chris Klieman has built an impressive roster in Manhattan, Kan. As a result of his efforts, the Wildcats are well-positioned to claim their second conference title in three years.


Offense

With a rising star at quarterback, a rock-solid offensive line, an award-winning running back, and explosive playmaking receivers, K-State's offense has the tools to bring a conference championship to the Little Apple.


Dynamic sophomore Avery Johnson returns as the Wildcats' signal caller. Rivals rated him the top dual-threat QB in the 2023 recruiting class. Although he backed up Will Howard most of last season, he shined when on the field, and received MVP honors in the Pop-Tarts Bowl. Redshirt sophomore Jacob Knuth, a pro-style QB from South Dakota, will serve as Johnson's capable backup.


Kansas State Wildcats QB Avery Johnson
© Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats boast an impressive and veteran offensive line. Four of the projected starters were key contributors to an OL group that attained semifinalist status last year for the Joe Moore Award. It's the prize annually granted to the best college football offensive line unit.




Leingang saw significant action last season in a backup capacity. Panzer started all 13 games at right guard last year, and he was first-team Academic All-Big 12 in 2022. He is slated to slide over to center this year. Poitier was a member of the regular OL rotation in 2023, on the field for 363 offensive snaps. Willis played in all of K-State's games last year, starting in seven, and was named All-Big 12 honorable mention. Kilty is the only newcomer. He transferred to Kansas State from North Dakota. While in the transfer portal, 247Sports rated him the No. 5 offensive tackle.


Kansas State Wildcats - OL Hadley Panzer
© Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats have an embarrassment of riches in the receiver room, with main cogs returning and a major new acquisition from the transfer portal.



Cephas transferred from Penn State, where he was on the Biletnikoff Award watchlist last year. He joins a receiving corps with impressive credentials. Johnson was a coveted four-star recruit from Omaha, Neb., who started five games last season. As a true freshman, Brown played in 10 games and tallied 437 receiving yards with 3 touchdown receptions. In 2023, Oakley was first-team Academic All-Big 12. After missing the beginning of the season due to injury, he earned a starting role at the end of the year.


Kansas State Wildcats WR Keagan Johnson
© Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Junior DJ Giddens is coming off an excellent season in which he rushed for 1,226 yards and 10 touchdowns. He started all 13 games for K-State and was named All-Big 12 honorable mention. Giddens will be backed up by promising redshirt freshman Joe Jackson, a coveted recruit from Florida.


Defense

Kansas State's defense is stout. Pro Football Focus ranked the Wildcats' 2023 defense No. 30 in the nation and No. 4 in the Big 12. Athlon Sports raves about the defense coach Klieman has assembled in the "Little Apple," stressing the team's "overwhelming depth at defensive end."


Senior safety Marques Sigle started 12 games last season and led the team with 63 tackles. He earned All-Big 12 honorable mention accolades.


Redshirt junior linebacker Desmond Purnell started all 13 games in 2023. As a renowned ball hawk, he forced 3 fumbles and also earned All-Big 12 honorable mention accolades.


Manhattan Project

In 2022, running back Deuce Vaughn led K-State to a stirring victory over undefeated TCU in the conference championship game. The mission for the Wildcats in 2024 is to replicate that feat. With the cast of talented players discussed above, they are well-positioned to accomplish the mission.





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