Kansas State's streak of six 11-win seasons in seven years from 1997-2003 is a distant memory, as the Wildcats have managed just 39 victories and two winning records in the past seven seasons.
Spring practice is vital for the Wildcats this year. Several players must raise their level of performance and some key transfers need to emerge as potential stars, or there will be little reason to expect the Wildcats to be much better in 2011.
There are some gaping holes. Last season's leading rusher, Daniel Thomas, is gone. So is leading receiver Aubrey Quarles. The offensive line lost three full-time starters. Quarterback play has been shaky since Josh Freeman left for the NFL after the 2008 season. The defense was weak against the run and allowed opponents to score at least 36 points in six games last season, including each of the last four.
But coach Bill Snyder has brought in a number of junior college players and has a couple of high-profile transfers on the roster. That was a formula for success when the Wildcats were routinely posting 11 wins. Maybe it will be again.
Here's a look at the Wildcats as they get ready to open spring drills; they are the last team nationally to hit the field, by the way.
KANSAS STATE AT-A-GLANCE
Bill Snyder hopes JC players and big-name transfers can spark Kansas State in 2011.
Coach: Bill Snyder Last season: 7-6 overall, 3-5 in the Big 12 South. Lost 36-34 to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Spring dates: April 6-30.
RETURNING STARTERS (minimum seven starts last season)
The Wildcats return three starters at safety. Ty Zimmerman earned all-conference recognition last year as a true freshman, senior Tysyn Hartman is a hard-nosed safety who was the team's second-leading tackler and has seven interceptions over the past two seasons, and David Garrett started all but one game as the third safety in the 4-2-5 set and led the team in tackles.
Help is needed
Star RB Daniel Thomas completed his eligibility, and no other returning running back had more than 12 carries in 2010. Three starters were lost from an offensive line that gave up 31 sacks, and no returning receiver managed as many as 30 catches last season. Worst of all, the Wildcats' rushing defense ranked 119th in the nation (231.3 yards per game). That doesn't speak well for the defensive linemen and linebackers. In addition, K-State recorded only 20 sacks in 13 games.
3 guys to watch
LB Arthur Brown: A former mega-recruit who transferred from Miami, Brown has drawn raves from Kansas State coaches. Some have gone so far as to say the best linebacker in the Big 12 last season was on the Wildcats' scout team. The Wildcats are hoping he can live up to the hype.
RB Bryce Brown: Bryce, Arthur's younger brother, was the nation's top-ranked recruit in 2009. That season, he rushed for 460 yards for Tennessee. He'll be a top contender to replace Thomas in the starting lineup.
QB Justin Tuggle: He's a dual-threat transfer from Blinn College in Texas, the same program where Heisman recipient Cameron Newton and former Kansas State All-American Michael Bishop played. Tuggle's accuracy has been questioned, but he's a playmaker who can put some excitement into a position that has been a problem area the past two seasons. He began his career at Boston College and is the son of former NFL LB Jessie Tuggle.
The pressure is on
DE Brandon Harold: He was named to multiple freshman All-America teams in 2008. But he played in only one game during an injury-ravaged 2009 season and had 41 tackles and two sacks last season. He started the first eight games last season, then lost his starting job. He has to show this spring that he can regain the form of his freshman season.
The hope in Manhattan is that a legion of transfers can boost the Wildcats out of a seven-year rut of mediocrity. The latest recruiting class included eight junior college transfers, led by Tuggle. That group and the Brown brothers -- who are Kansas natives -- add an element of excitement for spring football. But major improvement is needed against the run for Kansas State to be a factor in the reconfigured Big 12.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.