Kansas State at Stanford is the type of football game that can be considered trivia before it is played.
What’s the most difficult season opener in K-State history? You’re about to witness it.
Rarely can that type of statement rise above hyperbole, but this is an exception. On paper, the Wildcats have never opened with a more difficult game than they will Friday night at Stanford Stadium.
The game represents several firsts. It’s the first time K-State has opened against a top-10 team, it’s the first time K-State has opened on the road since 2007 and it’s the first time K-State has opened on the road under Bill Snyder since 2001. If the Wildcats win, it will also mark their first road victory over a ranked nonconference team. Quite the list for a program that has been around since 1896.
“Usually you start with a FCS team, and they aren’t always up to the highest level of competition,” K-State linebacker Elijah Lee said. “This is one of the top teams in the nation. You have to be excited about this opportunity, because you don’t get this opportunity too much.”
For K-State, everything about this game feels different. In 24 seasons under Snyder, the Wildcats have opened 19 times at home, three on the road and two in Kansas City. The vast majority of those games were played against soft competition. K-State’s current seniors have opened against North Dakota State, Stephen F. Austin and South Dakota.
A trip to Stanford will make some fans recall the first game of 2001 at unranked Southern California, but Snyder says that experience will have little in common with this one.
“They both involve four hours of travel,” Snyder said of the lengthy chartered flight west. “That is the commonality of it.”
Will this game turn out to be different in a good or bad way?
That question can’t be answered until after it is played, and maybe not until the season ends. But K-State players think the game, scheduled at the last minute after conversations with lesser opponents fell through, will be a positive.
At the least, it pushed them through brutal practices in the August heat.
“It is pretty exciting,” senior running back Charles Jones said. “A lot of people want to play in the limelight. Everybody will be watching on Friday night so everybody is licking their chops to make plays.”
The Wildcats say the challenge of playing Stanford motivated them as far back as winter conditioning. Unlike most years, when K-State played mostly overmatched nonconference competition, the Wildcats knew they had to be ready for Game 1. They couldn’t skirt by until Game 4.
All eyes have been on Stanford for months.
“It’s a big opportunity, a really huge game,” sophomore running back Justin Silmon said. “We have been working so hard ever since the offseason. We just want to go in there and win. That is our only goal. I have been thinking about it through the whole summer. I couldn’t go to sleep some nights. It’s crazy.”
Snyder asked players to approach Stanford the same way they approach every game, emphasizing consistency and daily improvement. They locked in early.
With the most difficult opener in K-State history looming, they had little choice.
“It’s a great opportunity in regards to this set of young people,” Snyder said. “I have great respect for Stanford and we all know where they are in the rankings, certainly well deserved. ... Stanford is a great challenge and our players are excited about playing the game. That’s a positive thing.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Kansas State at No. 8 Stanford
- When: 8 p.m. Friday
- Where: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif.
- Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
- TV: Fox Sports 1
Three things about Stanford
1. The Cardinal will go as far as running back Christian McCaffrey can take them this season. McCaffrey finished second in Heisman voting a year ago after amassing 3,864 all-purpose yards and is now considered the front-runner for the award.
2. Quarterback Ryan Burns will make his first start for Stanford on Friday. He won a close position battle over Keller Chryst. Stanford coach David Shaw has said both could play against K-State.
3. Stanford may be without one of its top playmakers. Shaw said running back/receiver Bryce Love is unlikely to play against K-State. He averaged 10.8 yards per touch last season.
Key matchup: K-State linebackers vs. Christian McCaffrey
Stanford’s star running back is going to make big plays, but Elijah Lee, Charmeachealle Moore and Will Davis can limit them with solid play in the middle of K-State’s defense.
Kellis Robinett’s pick: Stanford, 31-17
K-State has never won a nonconference game on the road against a top-25 team. Hard to see that changing against a team as good as Stanford. Expect a competitive effort from the Wildcats, but the Cardinal pulls away late.