College football betting: Is Kansas State a potential dark horse in the Big 12?

Chris Klieman enters his fourth season at the helm of the Kansas State Wildcats. In his two non-COVID years as coach, Kansas State has gone on to win eight games in both campaigns. They've been a pesky group that has pulled off some upsets and exceeded expectations. It's been a solid start to Klieman's tenure, but is there reason to believe they can take another step forward this season?

Changes coming for Kansas State

At the end of last season, Klieman decided to part ways with offensive coordinator and longtime friend Courtney Messingham. Collin Klein called plays in Kansas State's 42-20 bowl game victory over LSU. Granted, a lot of key LSU players didn't play in that game, but the 42-point explosion was enough to get Klein the full-time gig as offensive coordinator.

Last season, Kansas State ran just 57 offensive plays per game on average. It was the lowest mark in the country. Under Klein in the bowl game, they ran 62 plays despite having a massive lead for most of the game. It's a small sample, but it's likely a sign of a change in philosophy. Reportedly, Kansas State wants to play at a faster tempo with more motions and misdirection.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 04: Deuce Vaughn #22 of the Kansas State Wildcats celebrates a rushing touchdown during the second half of the TaxAct Texas Bowl against the LSU Tigers at NRG Stadium on January 04, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Deuce Vaughn of Kansas State is one of the more electric players in the country. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Adrian Martinez has transferred to Kansas State from Nebraska, and he'll be the one tasked with running the new-look offense. Martinez is a maddening player as he's got dual-threat capabilities but also doesn't value the football nearly enough. His turnovers have cost his team plenty of games, but there's also no denying his talent.

Martinez played through a bunch of injuries last season including injuries to his jaw and shoulder. There's hope that a healthier season and a change of scenery will help him find the consistency to unlock his potential. Kansas State also is projected to have a much better offensive line than Nebraska had, which is a key factor for a quarterback who likes to hold the ball longer and make plays. Martinez is currently 125-to-1 to win the Heisman.

With Klein and Martinez joining forces to hopefully make the offense more dynamic, they'll benefit greatly from having Deuce Vaughn in the backfield. The 5-foot-6 running back touched the ball 284 times last year and produced 1872 yards from scrimmage. He's one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country and has already been named a consensus All-American. Deuce is 80-to-1 to win the Heisman.

The Big 12 is wide open

Oklahoma is the betting favorite to win the Big 12, but a new coach and quarterback might need some time to gel. Texas is amongst the favorites, but it feels like the Longhorns are up there every year before disappointing. Right behind those two massive programs, you'd see Baylor and Oklahoma State on a lot of lists. Both teams have had success in recent seasons and even met in the Big 12 championship game last season. However, it wouldn't be overly surprising to see either school take a bit of a step back.

Then comes the middle tier of the Big 12. Kansas State is likely considered near the top of a group that includes the Wildcats, TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia and Texas Tech. Kansas obviously brings up the rear. However, there's not much separating the teams in the Big 12 this year. The teams at the top have questions, and there's excitement surrounding the teams in the middle tier.

Kansas State won eight games in the 2019 regular season and won seven games in 2021 before their bowl victory over LSU. They've taken steps to improve the offense as Chris Klieman continues to put his stamp on the program. There's a reason that 89% of bets and 95% of the money at BetMGM is backing Kansas State to go over 6.5 wins this season.

While Kansas State going over its win total feels like a good bet, the parity in the Big 12 makes the Wildcats an appealing long shot bet to win the conference as well. Kansas State is 12-to-1 to win the Big 12 after opening at 18-to-1 earlier in the summer.