Morgan Burns has been at Kansas State long enough to know when a big game is next on the schedule.
He can tell by the number of students who wish him luck between classes and the amount of fans that approach him in town. It happens a lot more when K-State is playing a conference rival than a directional school.
But it happens most when No. 20 K-State is about to face No. 5 Auburn. Based on fan response, Burns is expecting a special crowd.
“Every gameday we get out there and start warming up. You can smell the popcorn and hear the band playing, all the fans yelling chants. I just picture that times 10,” said Burns, a junior defensive back for the Wildcats. “As far as the crowd, they are going to be excited. Everyone on campus is talking Auburn. This game is going to be crazy.”
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Auburn’s visit to Manhattan on Thursday is the most-anticipated Wildcats sporting event of the year. The Tigers are the first nonconference opponent with a top-five ranking to play at K-State since Penn State in 1969. And unlike that game, which K-State lost 17-14, this game will be televised nationally on ESPN.
Tickets have been sold out for months, and they are selling for as much as $600 on the secondary market. K-State’s last two mid-week home football games — Nebraska in 2010 and North Dakota State last year — were played in front of electric crowds, despite losses. Decibel levels are expected to exceed both for Auburn.
“This will likely be our greatest attended game ever,” K-State athletic director John Currie said last week. “We actually have not sold standing room-only tickets, because we know our student section will be as full as it has ever been that night.”
The capacity crowd is expected to be so large that K-State issued a news release on Monday, asking fans to arrive as early as possible for the 6:30 p.m. kickoff. Parking lots will open at 1:30.
“We want to encourage our fans to arrive early, remain patient and give themselves plenty of time to get to the stadium on Thursday,” Currie said.
The pregame buzz is unmistakable.
“We have been hearing about the buzz for this game since before the season,” defensive tackle Valentino Coleman said. “This game is real big, not just for our football team but our whole community. Our whole community is looking forward to this game and to us putting on a show.”
Added linebacker Jonathan Truman: “Everyone has had this game highlighted on their calendars. We always talk about taking it one game at a time and we have, but now we are excited this game is finally here. I think everyone else is, too. To have the game on a Thursday night, televised, everybody is watching. I think both us and Auburn are excited to play. It is going to be rocking. Our stadium with all our fans in it is going to be a special place.”
Question is: How are K-State players handling the buildup to such a big game?
So far, K-State coach Bill Snyder has a positive answer.
“I’m pleased up to this point,” Snyder said Monday during the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “Their focus has been on the moment, whatever that happens to be. Yesterday they were on yesterday and today it’s on today and trying to get themselves better. …
“I’d like to think that they’re enthused about the opportunity and challenge that’s in front of them, but again, if you get caught up too much in Thursday night you’re probably not taking care of Monday. That’s where the focus lies, is trying to stay in the moment.”