MANHATTAN — Just in case the thrill of a new season isn’t enough to get Kansas State football players excited about Saturday’s game against Missouri State, Bill Snyder has a challenge for them.
Season openers haven’t exactly gone perfectly for the Wildcats since Snyder came out of retirement. The Wildcats had plenty of trouble with Massachusetts before emerging with a 21-17 victory in his first game back three years ago. And who could forget last year’s opening game? Eastern Kentucky carried a 7-0 lead into the fourth quarter, and it wasn’t until Collin Klein hit Chris Harper for a 33-yard touchdown pass with less than 2 minutes remaining that K-State fans could breathe easy.
Snyder reminded his team of that poor start each time they met in the offseason. No one wants to go through that again.
“We put ourselves behind the eight ball last year,” Klein said. “If we were able to start a little sooner we could have ended down the road a little further than we did … That’s something that coach has put to us. We need to start a little further ahead.”
K-State still ended up accomplishing big things. After coming from behind against Eastern Kentucky, it went on to win 10 games and play in the Cotton Bowl. K-State won its second game 37-0 and upset Miami on the road a week after that.
But, as Snyder has pointed out, the Wildcats benefited from an open week between their first two games last year. He doesn’t want to rely on that kind of turnaround with a more demanding schedule this time around.
“We had three weeks in order to try and repair things. That’s not the case this year,” Snyder said. “I don’t think we can really afford that, because we don’t have that kind of time. We play this one and turn right around and play Miami next week.”
The Cats are in a much different position than they were a year ago, too. Last year, Klein was still adjusting to being a starter, John Hubert was new at running back and Tyler Lockett and Arthur Brown had never played in a K-State uniform. Now, the Wildcats return 17 starters and enter the season ranked 22nd.
“This year we have a lot of guys back,” senior receiver Chris Harper said. “We’ve continued with the momentum we had before the end of the season and had throughout the summer.”
The hope is for that to translate into K-State becoming a better starting team. K-State proved it could finish games by winning eight nail-biters. But that might not have been necessary had it built early leads.
“We could be a better first- and third-quarter football team than what we are,” Snyder said. “There are great advantages, based on past history, to being ahead at halftime.”
Harper doesn’t need to be reminded of past games to understand them. He doesn’t think his teammates do, either.
“One of the things that we have been talking about this season is starting fast,” Harper said. “We have not even really focused on Eastern Kentucky. It is not really our focus because Missouri State is a totally different team. That is what we have been focusing on. We know that they are going to be a better team than what people give them credit for.”