Before Kansas State plays host to No. 18 Mississippi State on Saturday, let’s take a moment to look back at the other home games the Wildcats have played against ranked nonconference opponents under Bill Snyder.
- In 2014, Auburn visited Manhattan on a Thursday night with a top-five ranking. The Wildcats gave the Tigers all they could handle, but Auburn prevailed 20-14.
- In 2002, then coach Pete Carroll brought Southern California to Manhattan with a top-15 ranking. K-State won 27-20 and Carroll described Snyder Family Stadium as one of the toughest environments in college football. Snyder still mentions that game in speeches to fans.
Well, there you have it. That’s the complete list. Snyder took over as coach in 1989 and is now in his 27th season at K-State, yet he can still count the number of ranked teams he has faced at home during nonconference play on one hand.
Simply put: games like these are rare.
They can also make the difference between a good season and a great season. K-State used that victory over USC in 2002 as a springboard to 11 wins. When the Wildcats lost to Auburn, they had to settle for a 9-4 record.
“That’s a huge opportunity for us,” K-State quarterback Alex Delton said. “Every week is an opportunity, and we knew even this summer that this game would be a huge opportunity for us. These guys have a lot of hype going into this year, and, rightfully so, they sound like a good team. It gives us an opportunity to showcase what we can do as a team, as a Big 12 team vs. a good SEC team. I’m confident in us. I am confident in our abilities, and I am sure they’re confident too. I am ready to get after it.”
Mississippi State will provide a new challenge for K-State.
The Wildcats had an obvious talent advantage in their opener against South Dakota. That won’t be the case this week. The Bulldogs, coming off a 63-6 whipping of Stephen F. Austin, boast top-notch talent across their roster.
Earlier this week at his news conference, Snyder marveled at the size they possess on their offensive line, and said blocking their defenders will be difficult. As he watched replays of their opening game, he didn’t see much drop-off from the starters to the backups.
“They’re a team that plays extremely hard,” Snyder said. “They’re a tough, physical football team, they’re a very sizable football team. We’re looking at 330 (pounds) across the line on offense with an average of 6-5, and you look at the defense up front, the same thing, all 300-pounders. All of them are extremely physical and tough-nosed guys, and the depth that they have. They’re three deep on their defensive line. They can shuffle guys in and out.”
The biggest names to keep an eye on are defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat, who form one of the top pass-rushing duos in the nation. But running back Aeris Williams rushed for 1,107 yards last season and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is one of the top dual-threat passers in the SEC.
How can the Wildcats counter the Bulldogs? Good question. The only thing rarer than a ranked team visiting Manhattan this time of year is K-State beating a notable nonconference team this time of year.
K-State lost at Vanderbilt last year and at Stanford the year before that. Auburn won here in 2014 and so did North Dakota State in 2013. The Wildcats haven’t downed a prominent nonconference team in the regular season since they beat Miami (Fla.) in back-to-back years with Collin Klein at quarterback.
There are plenty of lessons K-State players can take away from those past games. Right tackle Dalton Risner remembers the Auburn game and thinks K-State spent so much time worrying about the Tigers they failed to execute fundamentals. If not for missed field goals and dropped passes, he said, the Wildcats win that game.
Running back Alex Barnes learned from the Vanderbilt game last year, saying SEC teams tend to try and disrespect opponents from the get-go and play with a “different type of intensity.” That got to them in Nashville. This time around, K-State needs to set the tone.
Games like these are rare, after all.
“It will definitely be one of our biggest games,” Barnes said. “They are a top-20 team, probably top-15 now, very athletic, SEC defense, hard-hitters. They’ve got it all. So we are really going to have to pride ourselves this week in our preparation and take care of everything.”