MANHATTAN — Due in large part to Miami Dolphins draft pick Daniel Thomas, Kansas State was ranked as the second-best rushing team in the Big 12 Conference last season.
In the new-fangled Big 12, there are 10 teams, a nine-game conference schedule and a total dismantling of the North and South Divisions.
Kansas State also figures to have a new, perhaps more-balanced look, with Thomas, a two-time Big 12 rushing champion, graduating to the next level as a third-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.
And, much of the running-game burden falls on running backs Bryce Brown and Jon Hubert inasmuch as it does for quarterback Collin Klein. In a conference where only two quarterbacks had a pair of 100-yard rushing games in 2010, the deceptively quick 6-foot-5, 226-pound Klein was one of them.
Yet, in this rapidly changing conference, Klein, a junior from Loveland, Colo., might have to be more prone to pass than rely on his legs. Alternating last season with the graduated Carson Coffman, Klein ranked No. 2 on the team in rushing with 432 yards, including 127 yards on 25 carries in his first start, a 39-14 victory over Texas at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan.
“It was a great opportunity,” Klein said of his on-again, off-again role last season, where the Wildcats finished 7-6 overall, culminated by a heart-breaking 36-34 loss to Syracuse in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York. “Our coaches really do a great job of emulating game atmosphere in practice.
“We do practice at a very high speed and there’s a very high intensity, but at the same time, game reps, are game reps. Being able to get out there on the field and being able to contribute was a great opportunity and one I’m extremely grateful for.”
Blinn College transfer Justin Tuggle, the son of a former NFL linebacker, five-time Pro Bowler and College Football Hall of Fame member — Jessie Tuggle — figures to be Klein’s backup, although no depth chart was released to the press during Kansas State’s media day on Friday afternoon.
More than anything, though, it appears it is Klein’s job to lose. He’s striving to make big gains in Snyder’s intricate offensive playbook in the passing game after completing a mere 11 of 18 passes for 138 yards and no interceptions in 10 games a year ago.
“It’s really been a process, one obviously where I’m still growing,” Klein said. “Our coaches do such a great job. I’ve worked very hard with (offensive coordinator Del) Miller and Coach Snyder, breaking everything down from the ground up with footwork.
“Our main goal is reads, progressions and being able to play fast, mentally.”
Klein says that the speed of the game needs to be at a point of more acceleration.
“Just across the board and putting those components together and just growing and maturing, I’ve been able to make some improvement and I’m not satisfied with where I’m at and I never will be, but again, it’s an opportunity and part of the game of football and I’m very excited.”
• Brothers Brown
Are there concerns of rust for the much-ballyhooed brothers from Wichita?
Running back Bryce Brown is a 6-0, 220-pound redshirt sophomore, who sat out last season after transferring from Tennessee.
His older brother, linebacker Arthur Brown, is a 6-3, 223-pound junior, who sat out 2010 after transferring from Miami, where the Wildcats will travel on Sept. 24 for their third game of the season.
Still, might the duo be a bit rusty as the only time they’ve seen the field since 2009 was the 2011 intrasquad spring game?
“It’s just a matter of getting a couple practices out of the way and knocking off the rust,” Arthur shrugged. “It’s all good.”
Bryce seems to be a little more animated than his older brother. Not quite as mellow and soft-spoken.
“What I would like to bring is a little bit more of vocal leadership,” Bryce said.
“I would say no,” he said. “Just because football is football and the game didn’t change when I was sitting out and I’ve been doing this for a long, long time and working at it.
“I’m passionate about it and it’s exciting. Sitting out a year helped me appreciate it, not that I didn’t appreciate it before, and I think that’s going to make me a better player."
Bryce finished with 460 rushing yards in 101 carries for a 4.6 yards-per-game average and three touchdowns in 2009 with Tennessee.
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
2011 football schedule
Sept. 3 — EASTERN KENTUCKY, 6:10 p.m.
Sept. 10 — Bye
Sept. 17 — KENT STATE
Sept. 24 — at Miami
Oct. 1 — BAYLOR
Oct. 8 — MISSOURI
Oct. 15 — at Texas Tech
Oct. 22 — at Kansas
Oct. 29 — OKLAHOMA
Nov. 5 — at Oklahoma State
Nov. 12 — TEXAS A&M
Nov. 19 — at Texas
Dec. 3 — IOWA STATE
HOME GAMES IN ALL CAPS