Fair or not, K-State fans have become accustomed to defending the team’s nonconference slate every year. Bill Snyder built several seasons on the back of an easy romp through directional schools during his first tenure, but match ups with programs like Miami have given K-State credibility heading into conference play over the past few years. However, K-State is about to embark on a no-win nonconference schedule that deserves no apologies, but will fail to win it any believers.
If you’re not aware, K-State kicks off the year against North Dakota State University on a Friday night and the match up should be exciting. I wrote a bit about the game back in May, but here’s the gist: there’s no reason K-State should apologize for scheduling NDSU. Yes, the Bison are an FCS program. Yes, there’s a discrepancy between the resources of the two schools. But consider this: NDSU went 14-1 in 2011 and won the national championship that year, with a 37-24 beating of the Big 10′s Minnesota along the way. The in 2012 the Bison once again went 14-1 with another national championship, including a 22-7 smacking of Mountain West team Colorado State. Oh, and in 2010 NDSU kicked off the season in Lawrence and shut out the Jayhawks.
So what’s the projection for North Dakota State this year? After easily coasting to a 39-13 victory over Sam Houston State for their second straight national championship and returning a bevy of starters from last year’s team, the Bison were selected as the preseason number one, receiving 23 of 25 votes. The team returns 18 starters. Numbering among them are All-American selections Billy Turner at tackle and Marcus Williams at cornerback, as well as starting quarterback and 2012 FCS National Championship MVP Brock Jensen.
The team has played three Division I opponents this decade, defeated all three, and won two straight national championships while appearing primed to win a third. North Dakota State is capable of beating a number of Division I schools, and K-State may be among that list. But where’s the upside? If the Wildcats blow the game out, they beat up on a lower division school. They’re nothing but bullies, paying another program to come to Manhattan and get their hind quarters kicked. Yet a close game means K-State has a hard time putting away lower division competition, and a loss… let’s not contemplate the ridicule that will assuredly rain down following a loss to an FCS school. N0-win situation.
The following week K-State hosts the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished 2012 at 9-4 with a bowl win over East Carolina, their second consecutive New Orleans Bowl victory. Florida scheduled a late season game against the Ragin’ Cajuns last year and ULL entered Gainesville to take on a Florida team standing at 9-1 and ranked #6 in the nation. Yet ULL took a 17-13 lead into the fourth quarter and soon kicked a field goal to go on top 20-13 in the fourth. Florida tied the game with a touchdown with less than two minutes to go, and the game would have gone into overtime if the Gators hadn’t managed a blocked punt, which was returned for a touchdown with just two seconds left in the game (I remember throwing things at the TV when this highlight came on to SportsCenter).
ULL is another solid program that offers a n0-win situation due to a lack of national standing. The Cajuns have seven starters returning on offense, including quarterback Terrance Broadway who was picked to be the conference’s offensive player of the year. The team as a whole is projected to win the conference. But they play in the Sun Belt Conference. So it doesn’t matter that the Cajuns ranked 24th nationally with 35.5 points scored last year while returning the majority of those starters, that they’re projected to win their league, and that they were two minutes from upsetting Florida last year. They still play in the Sun Belt, so the same adage applies: a big win makes K-State a bully, a close win means K-State isn’t ready to compete again in 2013, and a loss guarantees ridicule. No-win situation.
The final nonconference game is UMass, and this is an opponent whose strength I will not defend. Massachusetts began its transition to the FBS in 2011, and the Minutemen becomes bowl eligible this year. While the program enjoyed success at the FCS level in the mid and late 2000′s and has sent multiple players to the NFL in the past, the team still went 1-11 last season. USA Today has pegged the 2013 incarnation of the team to be the second worst in the nation, just ahead of Georgia State. I honestly don’t see the Minutemen as a threat, and the contest will be a good tune-up before heading to Austin the next week to begin Big 12 play. Come to think of it, a (mostly) guaranteed win and chance to prepare for Texas may be the win of the schedule!
So there it is. K-State’s revamped defense opens up against possibly the best FCS quarterback in the nation and then the Sun Belt’s best offensive player in quarterback Terrance Broadway. A new Wildcat quarterback must face a defense that embarrassed DI programs when its players were underclassman – now they’re all grown up. North Dakota State and Louisiana-Lafayette may not be big name schools, but they are more than capable of playing up to their competition. Yet while threats to upset anyone, K-State will receive zero credit for beating these threats. Of course, maybe that simply means the Wildcats will once again head into conference play overlooked and underrated – if I know Bill Snyder, that’s exactly how he likes it.
*An earlier version of this incorrectly identified Sam Houston State as Youngstown State. While Youngstown dealt North Dakota State its only loss in 2011, the Bison rectified that situation with a 48-7 victory last year in regular season play.