Sports

Central Florida evokes unpleasant recollections of two mid-majors from K-State's past

MANHATTAN — Central Florida and Kansas State are separated by nearly 1,400 miles and have never met on the football field. They share no history.

Wildcat coach Bill Snyder says he isn't close with Golden Knights head man George O'Leary, and O'Leary claims most of his players have never visited the Midwest.

By all accounts, Saturday's game at Snyder Family Stadium will be a new experience for both parties.

And yet, there is something very familiar about this game.

In 2003, Marshall knocked K-State out of the Top 10 with a 27-20 upset. A year later, Fresno State derailed what was supposed to be a promising Wildcats season with a decisive 45-21 victory.

Both times K-State was undefeated. Both times they were knocked off by a mid-major team on the upswing.

Since his first year at K-State in 1989, they are Snyder’s only two home losses against nonconference opponents. Snyder would rather not think back to those two afternoons, but he is using them as warnings for his current players.

"Coach Snyder is really stressing this game," senior quarterback Carson Coffman said, "saying this is the toughest team we've played up to this point."

That statement initially caught some players off guard, considering they have already faced UCLA and Iowa State. But after watching Central Florida on film, they became believers.

"They are going to be a really good team," fullback Braden Wilson said. "They could very well be the toughest team we have played so far. It is going to be a good, hard-fought game.”

The Knights are led by dual-threat freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey — who chose Central Florida over Florida State, Miami, Michigan Georgia and Tennessee — and feature a fast defense that is allowing less than 270 yards per game.

Its pass defense is particularly stingy, surrendering a measly 133 yards per game. Defensive lineman Darius Nall already has three sacks, four tackles for loss and six hurries.

"We have a lot of experience back on defense," O'Leary said. "They play well together as a unit. I think we have decent speed closing on the ball. We get off blocks very quick."

That combination has helped Central Florida get off to a 2-1 start. Its lone loss came against North Carolina State, when the Knights uncharacteristically committed five turnovers. Still, they had a chance to send the game to overtime in the closing moments before falling 28-21.

That performance impressed Snyder, and still eats at the Knights. Even though winning a Conference USA championship is O'Leary's only goal, his players enjoy facing tough competition in the early season.

"They go out and play hard every game, whoever the opponent may be," O'Leary said. "But the nonconference games are important to them because that's what gets us press nationally."

Snyder nodded his head when asked if he thought the Knights could match up with most teams in the Big 12.

"They're an awfully good football team," Snyder said. "I don't know why they wouldn't. . . . They're competitive, or can be, with virtually anybody."

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