This isn’t North Texas or UMass. It’s not Louisiana, Louisiana-Monroe or Louisiana Tech. It’s not Montana, Montana State, Idaho State or Utah State. And it’s definitely not Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Northern Illinois, Eastern Illinois or Western Illinois.
This, folks, is Auburn, from the mighty SEC. The defending national runner-up to Florida State. The school that produced Bo Jackson. And currently the fifth-ranked college football team in America.
And these Tigers will be in Manhattan on Thursday night to take on the Wildcats from Kansas State. It’ll be nationally televised by ESPN and many eyeballs will be glued to television screens across the land.
The folks who are lucky enough to have a ticket – or a press pass – will see something unique at Bill Snyder Family Stadium: A ranked opponent taking on Kansas State.
During Bill Snyder’s 22-plus seasons as K-State’s coach, it’s happened only once. In 2002, the Wildcats knocked off No. 11 USC, 27-20. And folks, that’s it.
Snyder’s K-State teams did play No. 4 Washington on the road in 1991, his third season as coach.
But in only three seasons as coach, Ron Prince’s Wildcats played as many ranked non-conference opponents (2) as Snyder, including a road game against Auburn in 2007, which the Tigers won, 23-13. K-State also met No. 8 Louisville in a 2006 home game during Prince’s first season. The Wildcats lost that one, 24-6.
Snyder’s non-conference record of 69-11 is outstanding, for sure. But there hasn’t been a lot of meat.
In addition to USC and Washington, Kansas State has played Minnesota (2-0), UNLV (2-0), Cincinnati (2-0), Iowa (1-0), Fresno State (0-1), California (1-0), Central Florida (1-0), UCLA (1-1) and Miami (2-0) in non-conference games under Snyder.
But Auburn feels bigger than anything Kansas State has played outside of a bowl game. It rivals huge Big Eight and Big 12 matchups against Nebraska, Oklahoma and the like.
For one thing, we’re curious about the Wildcats, who were slugging at times in their Big 12-opening victory at Iowa State on Sept. 6. Just how good is Kansas State?
For that matter, just how good is Auburn. The Tigers blitzed Arkansas, 45-21, in their season and SEC opener. Then they walked through San Jose State, 59-13, last week.
Auburn has an unbelievable schedule the rest of the way. After Thursday night’s game against No. 20 Kansas State, the Tigers will still have games remaining against No. 8 LSU (Oct. 4 at Auburn), No. 14 South Carolina (Oct. 25, Auburn); No. 10 Ole Miss (Nov. 1 on the road), No. 6 Texas A&M (Nov. 8, Auburn), No. 13 Georgia (Nov. 15, Athens), and No. 3 Alabama (Nov. 29, Tuscaloosa).
Who plays that kind of schedule? It’s crazy.
And it makes you wonder just how many times Auburn can get up for a huge game.
The Tigers won’t be daunted by the big-time atmosphere at Kansas State on Thursday because they play in such atmospheres all the time. And the game will afford Auburn to send a strong signal to the rest of the SEC.
But the opportunity for Kansas State is just as enormous, if not more.
Outside of Oklahoma and perhaps Baylor, the Big 12 appears to be down a tick this season. Kansas State could be in the mix, though the Wildcats play both the Sooners and Bears on the road. Still, a win over Auburn would vault K-State higher in the rankings, probably closer to 10 than 20. And it would establish the Cats, with home games against UTEP and Texas Tech before what could be a huge game at Oklahoma on Oct. 18, on the national stage.
What a fascinating game coming up Thursday night in Manhattan. And a unique one, too. Makes me wish there had been a few more through the years.
Kansas State’s record against non-conference opponents
Bill Snyder Era (1989-2005; 2009-present)
Arizona State 0-1
Ball State 1-0
Bowling Green 1-0
Central Florida 1-0
Eastern Illinois 1-0
Eastern Kentucky 1-0
Florida International 1-0
Fresno State 0-1
Idaho State 1-0
Indiana State 3-0
Kent State 1-0
Louisiana Tech 2-0
McNeese State 1-0
Miami (Fla.) 2-0
Missouri State 2-0
New Mexico 1-0
New Mexico State 4-0
North Dakota State 0-1
North Texas 5-0
Northern Illinois 4-2
Northern Iowa 0-1
Stephen F. Austin 1-0
Tennessee Tech 1-0
Troy State 1-0
Utah State 1-1
Western Illinois 1-0
Western Kentucky 3-0