Know Your Opponent: Roster turnover leaves more questions than answers against Stanford

(Illustration by Marshall Sunner | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State starts the football season on Saturday with a neutral-site battle against the Stanford Cardinal at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The first Know Your Opponent articles of the year are difficult because they heavily rely on stats and game film that does not yet exist. Stanford played only six games this past season, adding to the challenge.

Coupled with roster turnover — the Cardinal losing five players to the NFL Draft — many questions are raised coming into the game.

Here’s what we know: Stanford won its final four games of the season this past year, including a win over a Top-25 Washington team and a double-overtime comeback win over UCLA.


Junior Jack West will likely take the snaps for Stanford’s offense this season after the departure of Davis Mills. West was a four-star recruit and has made two career starts, throwing for 154 yards this past season at Oregon. Sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee might also be in the mix.

West has a strong running back, a dangerous pass-catching tight end and a solid offensive line to work with. Head coach David Shaw’s offense lost a lot of its receiving yards from this past year, including all-conference wideout Simi Fehoko and three offensive linemen, including its center.

Schematically, Stanford is an interesting match-up for a K-State defense built to stop different personnel styles. The Cardinal are not afraid to go “big” with two tight ends and a fullback, especially in the red zone.

“Big and physical across the board,” head coach Chris Klieman said of the Stanford personnel. “Doesn’t matter if it’s on the offensive line, the tight ends, fullbacks to wide receivers for that matter.”

They featured a balanced attack with a mix of West Coast passing schemes and traditional power runs. There’s reason to believe the team will have an even heavier running game this year.

“You watch them on film, they’re going to do what they do, and I think that is run the football at you,” Klieman said. “Whether that’s out of multiple tight ends, a tight end [and] fullback to extra o-lineman. Whatever that may be I think that’s still an identity that they have.”

K-State needs to match Stanford’s big bodies at tight end and full back, while also trying to prevent the deep shots Stanford will take if the Wildcats commit too many resources to stopping the run.


While losing bodies is a problem for Stanford’s offense, the same can’t be said for their defense. A decent portion of their starters are returning, but the Cardinal still lose three key contributors from an already struggling defense.

Their 3-4 look features three seniors up front, including second-team All-Conference defensive end Thomas Booker, who tips the scales at 309 pounds. Klieman said size, speed and physicality will be a challenge for the Wildcat offense.

There are holes at the linebacker and defensive back positions that need filling after the departure of linebacker Curtis Robinson and safety Malik Antoine.

The Cardinal could not stop the run this past season, giving up 222 rushing yards per game, 90 more than they gained themselves. They also struggled to tackle in the open field.

K-State’s offense will need to focus on ball control by running the ball and staying on the field against Stanford’s defense. Spoiler alert — K-State’s keys to winning will involve maximizing possession a lot this year.

Key Storylines

Three-Headed Monster: The K-State offense features three extremely effective running backs. The Wildcats need a big game from all three to keep their defense off the field and power through Stanford’s defense.

K-State’s Secondary: This will be an early test for K-State’s defensive backs, who need to be nails this season, especially at the corner positions. West is a highly accurate quarterback so it is important to limit his options and force him into bad decisions.

West Coast: Stanford’s quarterback has only had two starts during his four years in Palo Alto. There’s a wide area between his potential ceiling and floor as a passer, and whether he is “okay,” “good” or “great” might be the difference in this game.

PREDICTION: The Wildcats run the ball early and often, but both teams struggle to keep their opponents off the field. K-State’s experience at quarterback makes the difference in this game. K-State wins 31-28.

Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, an alumnus from Olathe, Kansas. I graduated in spring 2022 with a Masters in Mass Communication, and I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. I covered K-State sports for the Collegian for four years.