The question took Chris Klieman by surprise.
When was the last time one of his football teams entered a game as an underdog? The K-State football coach chuckled and thought for a few seconds before responding.
“It’s probably been a while,” Klieman said, “since we’ve been in that boat.”
Klieman has proven he can win as the favorite. Throughout his time at North Dakota State, the Bison entered most seasons expected to win championships. And they rarely disappointed. Klieman guided his old school to four FCS national titles in five seasons, ending his time in Fargo with a gaudy record of 69-6.
He also had K-State firing on all cylinders in its first two games of the season, as the Wildcats crushed Nicholls 49-14 and then blanked Bowling Green 52-0.
Now he gets an opportunity to prove what he can do when many expect his team to lose. The Wildcats will face their first true test of the Klieman era in their next game when they hit the road against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are favored by 7 1/2 points.
“I don’t think you approach it any different way,” Klieman said Monday during his time on the Big 12 teleconference. “Whether you are the favorite or the underdog I think you have to go and prepare each day to make sure you’ve got a great plan for the week and the guys attack each day and see what transpires each Saturday.”
One change he will make as the team practices this week: Noise.
Over the past two weeks, the Wildcats have pumped in crowd noise while their defense worked against the scout team. This week, they will switch things up and pump in crowd noise when the offense is on the field.
Mississippi State plays in a loud SEC stadium, which is made even louder by the presence of cowbells.
“We’ll make sure the offense is prepared for it as best we can,” Klieman said. “I know it’s different when you’re in the environment as opposed to practice, but we have to work extremely hard on our non-verbal communication.”
Dealing with that after facing little to no adversity in the first two weeks of the season could be a challenge. But Klieman has been here before. It’s been a while, like he said, but this isn’t foreign territory.
North Dakota State entered the 2017 FCS championship game as the No. 2 seed against No. 1 seed James Madison and won 17-13. A year before that, he guided the Bison to a 23-21 road upset over Iowa. The Bison were obvious underdogs in that one.
Those were statement wins for Klieman’s old teams.
He’s eager to see if his new team is ready to do the same.
“It will be a great measuring stick for us, absolutely,” Klieman said. “To go on the road in a real difficult environment in Mississippi State, I’m excited to see how we respond. We are going to have big games from here on out, and it’s a good challenge for us. It allows us as coaches and players to see what we need to work on and where we are.”