MANHATTAN — Though it remains unclear when Kansas State will begin the 2020 football season and no one is sure who the Wildcats will play when games are tentatively scheduled to begin in September, there is no mystery about preseason camp.


K-State is set to begin practicing Friday as originally planned, a team spokesman confirmed this week.


That means, for now at least, fans can begin debating position battles and setting expectations for the upcoming season the same way they do every August.


With that in mind, here are five key things to watch as the Wildcats begin earnestly preparing for their lone nonconference game against either Buffalo or North Dakota.


1. Brand new offensive line


Nothing is more American than trying to project which offensive lineman will start at right guard for a team in early August.


The Wildcats will try to answer that question over the next month as they always do during preseason practices. But that's not the only spot up for grabs on K-State's offensive line. K-State lost all five of its starters to graduation last season, meaning K-State coach Chris Klieman will go from starting five seniors up front line to relying on five players with limited playing experience.


Spring practice would have been enormous for that position. Alas, offensive line coach Conor Riley will have to work his magic in a short amount of time.


The good news: He will have options. K-State coaches are high on Cooper Beebe and Josh Rivas, and they also have positive things to say about Kaitori Leveston, Noah Johnson, Christian Duffie and Ben Adler. Quarterback Skylar Thompson spent time working specifically with Johnson before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, because he is projected to start at center.


It's not difficult to envision Leveston at left tackle, Beebe at left guard, Johnson at center, Rivas at right guard and Duffie at right tackle. But the Wildcats will need more than just five primary blockers. As we learned last season, offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham likes to rotate in fresh blockers and use more than just his starters in games.


Some potential backups to keep an eye on are Carver Willis, Dawson Delforge and Adler.


Whatever happens up front, K-State will depend on its new-look offensive line to play at a high level. The Wildcats are a run-oriented team that struggles to move the ball when its front five isn't opening holes. And blocking will be of the utmost importance this season as Harry Trotter, Jacardia Wright and Joe Ervin try to replace James Gilbert and Jordon Brown at running back.


Turnover has never been an insurmountable obstacle for K-State on the offensive line, but it will be a challenge this season.


2. New look on defense


One K-State assistant coach likely missed spring practice more than every member of the staff. His name is Joe Klanderman.


The Wildcats' new defensive coordinator could have used that time to install new schemes and put his fingerprint on the defense. Instead, he will have to make changes during the summer.


That might not be easy. But he's unlikely to want to change too much, seeing as how he coached safeties as K-State made solid progress under Scottie Hazelton last season. Hazelton left for a big raise to become Michigan State's defensive coordinator, and Klieman promoted from within to fill the opening.


The Wildcats also welcomed Steve Stanard as their new linebackers coach this spring, meaning they will look different in multiple areas next season. Still, their overall defensive scheme shouldn't change too much.


The secondary was the strength of K-State's defense last season, and Klanderman is unlikely to change much, if anything, in that regard. He said he wants to be more aggressive with his coverage schemes than his predecessor, but otherwise use a similar playbook.


He will probably look to lean on top returning defenders such as Topeka native Wyatt Hubert, Elijah Sullivan, Justin Hughes and Wayne Jones. Each of them are capable of playing at an all-conference level, and Hubert already has.


Replacing Trey Dishon, Jordan Mittie and Reggie Walker might not be easy up front, but Klanderman will have a nice nucleus to build around as he works to reshape K-State's defense.


3. What's next for Skylar Thompson?


An experienced quarterback has traditionally been part of a winning formula for Kansas State.


The last three quarterbacks before Thompson to return with at least one year of starting experience under their belts (Jesse Ertz, Jake Waters, Collin Klein) all won at least nine games in a season for the Wildcats. If you go back to Bill Snyder's first stint as coach, K-State was typically a shoo-in for 11 victories any time he had an experienced quarterback.


It seems unlikely that Thompson will reach that same victory mark as a senior, given that Big 12 teams will only play 10 games this season. But his experience might be even more important than his predecessors.


Few things are more important than an experienced quarterback as teams try to return to the football field in the middle of a pandemic. Spring practice was canceled and summer workouts were interrupted everywhere. This is not the time to be breaking in a new starter.


That is one thing working in K-State's favor this season. The Wildcats will have one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big 12. Thompson has been starting games since his freshman year, and he was the unquestioned leader of the offense last season while throwing for 2,315 and 12 touchdowns and rushing for 405 yards and 11 touchdowns.


K-State will look to him as a stabilizing force as it looks to replace its top receiver, running back and entire offensive line from last season. He seems prepared for the challenge. Thompson has said he wants to rely more on his arm than his legs this season. If anyone can improve dramatically without practicing much between his junior and senior year, Thompson is the guy.


4. Klieman in Year 2


He already erased any doubt whether he could make the coaching jump from FCS powerhouse North Dakota State to K-State by leading the Wildcats to eight wins last season, including a memorable victory over Big 12 champion Oklahoma. But new coaches tend to make a bigger impact in Year 2 than they do in Year 1.


Following that trend might be a challenge for Klieman, as he must replace several key members from last year's team and he must do so under trying circumstances.


But it's certainly possible Klieman can improve on his winning percentage (61.5) from Year 1 as he settles into Year 2 in Manhattan.


Returning players know what to expect from him now, and he should be able to hit the ground running the moment practices begin on Friday. Some of his own recruits, like Joshua Youngblood, are already difference-makers. Some of the old Snyder recruits, like Malik Knowles and Justin Hughes, are all-in with him. Will that make things easier in the head coaching chair for Klieman?


Time will tell, but this could be an opportunity for everyone on the team to grow.


5. Staying healthy during a pandemic


Normally when a football coach says he wants his team to "stay healthy" during preseason camp, he is referring to physical injuries that might prevent them from playing in the season opener. This year, that almost seems like a secondary concern when compared to the coronavirus pandemic.


The biggest question for every team right now has to be: can its players avoid COVID-19 and make it to September with a mostly intact roster? Will there even be a season?


K-State was one of the many teams across the country that had to suspend voluntary workouts earlier this summer because of a coronavirus outbreak. Can it avoid a repeat during preseason camp?


The Wildcats appear to have learned much from that experience. Klieman recently said only two players were currently unable to participate in workouts because of the coronavirus and he hoped K-State would be at full strength for the start of camp.


There are strict precautions in place to help keep everyone healthy moving forward. Players were tested once again for COVID-19 on Monday and everyone that produced a negative result will have to pass daily temperature checks before entering team facilities.


Once players are on the field, they will wear masks and socially distance as much as possible. Coaches and support staff will also wear masks. During scrimmages, players will wear special masks with visors on their helmets that cover both their eyes and mouths.


All that protective gear can occasionally make it hard for players to catch their breath, but Klieman said last week they are necessary to remain on the field. He said he reminds his players "about 35 times a day" to make sure their masks cover both their mouth and nose.