No. 16 K-State
Kansas State’s 2022 season left football fans impressed, but also wondering what’s next. Star departures led to an influx of new contributors. The younger secondary group and offensive weapons must fill in the empty gaps left. Even so, K-State has plenty of consistency. Quarterback Will Howard now holds the keys to the offense from day one, behind the same sturdy offensive line from 2022. The 2023 season will rely on everyone raising their level of play to even higher levels.
SEMO (No. 13 in FCS rankings)
Southeast Missouri State enters the 2023 season after falling in the first round of the 2022 FCS Playoffs. The offensive firepower was not enough to advance, but still helped the Redhawks reach a 9-3 record. SEMO has a chance to improve in 2023 upon its 35.6 points per game in 2022. Quarterback Paxton DeLaurent, all-time leading rusher in program history Geno Hess and 2022 leading wide receiver Ryan Flournoy all return for 2023, starting on the road against K-State.
Matchup to Watch: Wildcat linebackers vs. Geno Hess
K-State linebackers faced many talented running backs in 2022, six of whom were drafted in the NFL draft, including first rounders Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs. The Wildcats start the 2023 season with another highly-touted runner. Standing at 5-foot-8, 225 pounds, Hess ran for career highs, with 1,691 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2022. The 2022-23 Ohio Valley Conference Male Athlete of the Year was voted FCS All-American first team and holds the key to the Redhawks competing with the Wildcats in the season opener.
Hess provides the Wildcat linebacking core with a good test in Week 1. Daniel Green and Austin Moore both have experience and results. The two combined for over 150 tackles in 2022 alongside multiple takeaways. Redshirt sophomore Desmond Purnell will receive his first major playing time alongside the veteran duo and could use the experience against Hess. His low-to-the-ground running style at a shorter size while also laying down the lumber may give the trio some troubles. If they are able to minimize Hess’s impact, K-State should have very little worries heading into Saturday night.
Quarterback Will Howard
Safety Kobe Savage
Running back Geno Hess
Wide receiver Ryan Flournoy