Kansas State athletic director John Currie works with football coach Bill Snyder to schedule nonconference games years ahead, so he doesn’t remember exactly when he finalized a contract with North Dakota State for Friday’s season opener.
But Currie does recall it was the summer of 2010, not long before the start of the college football season. He remembers that much for sure, because North Dakota State made a statement in its next game by traveling to Kansas and beating the Jayhawks.
“I remember seeing that score and saying, ‘Uh-oh,’” Currie said.
The Wildcats have been on alert ever since. That victory was the start of an impressive run for North Dakota State. Over the last three seasons, the Bison won two Division I-AA championships and went undefeated against major Division I competition, defeating Kansas, Minnesota and Colorado State on the road. They enter this season as the top-ranked I-AA team.
K-State is paying North Dakota State six figures to come to Bill Snyder Family Stadium for a stand-alone game K-State will be favored to win, but make no mistake: the Bison aren’t pushovers.
“This is a faster football team than people want to envision,” Snyder said. “Sometimes on tape you can’t visualize that, but they run around. Secondly, they are as aggressive and as tough as a football team as you will line up against. They play with a great deal of confidence. Defensively, they have been amazing.”
North Dakota State also returns Brock Jensen at quarterback, a four-year starter who threw for 2,331 yards last season and played a part in 29 touchdowns. He will be the most experienced quarterback the Wildcats will see all season. He has started 37 games, including several in the Division I-AA playoffs. Coming off back-to-back seasons in which they played 15 games, the Bison are experienced across the board.
“They might have 50 games experience on us,” Snyder said. “That is an immense advantage.”
Though he hasn’t lost a season opener since his rookie season as a head coach in 1989, Snyder has watched the Wildcats grind out victories in their last four openers. They beat Massachusetts 21-17 his first year back, took out UCLA 31-22 in 2010, struggled mightily in a 10-7 victory over Eastern Kentucky in 2011 and led Missouri State by three at halftime before pulling away last season. He would prefer a smoother start.
For that happen, K-State will need to be ready for a challenge.
“They definitely are tough,” freshman fullback Glenn Gronkowski said. “ “Everyone who played them last year said they were one of the toughest teams they played. Winners of back-to-back championships, that is huge. We can’t go in there and take them lightly.”
That would be a concern against most I-AA teams. Not this one. K-State players are giving North Dakota State plenty of respect.
“The biggest thing is not taking them for granted, not taking them lightly,” receiver Tyler Lockett said. “We know they are going to come in and give us their best shot. We just have to play better.”