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2019 College Football Rankings: Kansas State to kick off new era without Bill Snyder

A new era is set to kick off in Manhattan as Chris Klieman takes over the Kansas State program following in the footsteps of legendary coach Bill Snyder.

Klieman won four national titles at North Dakota State and now faces the challenge of helping the Wildcats return to football relevance.

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Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel ranked all 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2019 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 130 to our projected No. 1 team.

Today at No. 74: Kansas State

Coach: Chris Klieman (0-0, entering first season; 72-13 overall)

2018 record: 5-7, 3-6 in the Big 12 conference; tied for seventh in the league

Look back: Kansas State faced an uphill climb in 2018 with uncertainty at some key positions and it showed with the team dropping five of its first eight games. The Wildcats won two of their final three games but failed to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2009. Four of the team's seven losses were by five points or less. Snyder retired after an elite career leading the program, opening the door for the school to hire Klieman.

Offensive starters returning: 6

Offensive starters lost: 5

Defensive starters returning: 10

Defensive starters lost: 1

Key losses: RB Alex Barnes, OL Abdul Beecham, OL Dalton Risner, WR Zach Reuter, WR Isaiah Zuber, DB Kendall Adams, DB Duke Shelley, DB Eli Walker

Top returnees: QB Skylar Thompson, WR Dalton Schoen, OL Scott Frantz, OL Adam Holtorf, OL Tyler Mitchell, TE Blaise Gammon, DE Kyle Ball, DT Joe Davis, DT Trey Dishon, DE Wyatt Hubert, LB Justin Hughes, DB Walter Neil Jr., DB AJ Parker, LB Da'Quan Patton, DE Reggie Walker

Strengths: Expect Kansas State to push to upgrade a defense that was a middle of the road unit in the Big 12 last season. The entire defensive front is back led by ends Reggie Walker (35 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks) and Wyatt Hubert (34 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks). Senior Da'Quan Patton, who led the team in tackles with 70, is one of two starters back at linebacker along with Walter Neil Jr. (40 tackles).

The Wildcats return four starters on the offensive line led by tackle Scott Frantz, guard Tyler Mitchell and center Adam Holtorf, who combined have more than 90 career starts under their belts.

Weaknesses: Kansas State had its struggles on offense last season, with the team ranked last in the Big 12 in scoring offense (22.5 points per game), passing offense (162 yards per game) and total offense (344 yards per game). The good news is that new offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham wants the Wildcats to utilize a run-first mentality with an offense that features a lot of motion. This new philosophy could fit in well with quarterback Skylar Thompson, who can scramble and make plays with his legs while occasionally finding the open receiver downfield.

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The addition of former Ball State running back James Gilbert was a blessing with the early departure of veteran tailback Alex Barnes. Gilbert, who rushed for more than 2,800 yards and 30 touchdowns during his career with the Cardinals, brings a hard-nosed rusher to the backfield. He'll be joined by Louisville transfer Harry Trotter and Tyler Burns, who sat out the 2018 season.

The Wildcats struggled to limit passes, allowing more than 245 yards per game through the air. Even more distressing was the group's susceptibility to the big play, allowing six passing plays of 60 or more yards last season.

Outlook: Snyder and Kansas State football have been synonymous for close to three decades, so much so that his name is on the football stadium. So when Klieman was hired to replace Snyder, the reaction of many on social media was less than thrilled.

But the 51-year-old Klieman was coveted for the job after his run at North Dakota State, where he compiled a 69-6 record while capturing four Football Championship Subdivision national championships.

The challenge is returning Kansas State football to relevance in the Big 12, something the Wildcats have lacked since capturing the conference title in 2012.

2019 Schedule

Aug. 31 Nicholls

Sept. 7 Bowling Green

Sept. 14 at Mississippi State

Sept. 28 at Oklahoma State

Oct. 5 Baylor

Oct. 19 TCU

Oct. 26 Oklahoma

Nov. 2 at Kansas

Nov. 9 at Texas

Nov. 16 West Virginia

Nov. 23 at Texas Tech

Nov. 30 Iowa State

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