Excitement is high and tickets are scarce.
That’s why Snyder Family Stadium will look something like this picture (except only more packed) when the Kansas State football team takes on Massachusetts at 6:10 p.m. Saturday.
Not only will a near-capacity crowd of close to 50,000 fans be on hand to welcome the Wildcats to the field, but more than 300 former players will be there as part of a family reunion celebration cheering them on as well.
K-State athletic officials are saying it will be the largest crowd to ever witness a Wildcats home opener, and by far the largest former player reunion in the program’s history. Throw in the return of beloved coach Bill Snyder and a postgame fireworks celebration, and it adds up to one gigantic purple party.
It will be a large contrast from the tail end of last year, when fan interest waned and it was a struggle to attract 40,000 to home games.
“We talk about it just as players,” senior Eric Childs said. “You go out in the stadium, it’s not packed, it’s not loud and we kind of have to do it, not by ourselves, but it’s different. We feed off all their emotions and play for them (the fans) as well as for ourselves. We’re always happy when there are a lot of people in the crowd.”
For that reason, there is some sense of pressure to this game.
Yes, it’s against a FCS (or I-AA) opponent. Yes, the Wildcats should win somewhat easily. And yes, Snyder’s return alone practically assures victory (the guy has won 16 straight season openers).
It’s also been 25 years since UMass upset a FBS (or I-A) team, and that win came at home against Ball State.
But K-State nation will be looking for more than just a victory. With all the excitement surrounding this game, they will be looking for an impressive showing. It’s not like folks will be insisting on a 65-0 pounding, I’m just saying a 24-23 survival, like Ron Prince experienced in his first game against Illinois State, will not be well received.
I doubt the game will be that close. My official prediction is for Kansas State to win by 17, and most experts are expecting a similar 14-28 point victory.
UMass coach Kevin Morris said this week that it will be hard for his Minutemen to stay with the Wildcats, mostly because of the tremendous opening-day atmosphere they will be walking into.
If he had things his way, he would be playing K-State next week after all the reunions are over.
“There will be a packed house and a big welcome back for (Snyder),” Morris said. “That’s great for him, I guess, but we have to worry about playing football.”
Unlike a lot of FCS teams, UMass is capable of playing football at a quality level. The Minutemen come into Manhattan with a Top 25 FCS ranking and several impressive players.
Senior running back Tony Nelson is on the Walter Payton Award Watch List, and senior safety Jeromy Miles is on the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List. Those awards may not be well known in some circles, but they are the highest honors an offensive and defensive player can win at the FCS level.
That means UMass has stars on both sides of the ball. They are probably a playoff team in the FCS.
In its entirety, here is what Snyder said about UMass:
“This game will be a foundation to define exactly where we are. They’ve got a running back that I really like. He runs hard and he’s got some speed and quickness to him. We’ll find out if we’ve really made that kind of headway (in tackling) or not. If we’re reachers we’re in trouble. If we can get our face mask on the ball carrier, I think we’ll be all right.
They’ll be excited and emotional for this ballgame. This is a major ballgame for them. They will have great enthusiasm for the ballgame. As I watch them on tape I see them as a very physical football team. They are hard-nosed, tough guys. They fly around, probably as active a defensive football team as you would find. In terms of movement, they do a lot of things in regards to stunts and blitzes, etc. They’re running all the time. They’re a pretty good offensive football team as well. I like they’re offensive line. They are physical. They have continuity in their offensive line. They all seem to understand the scheme of things and they work well together.
They have a good running back. I don’t know much about the quarterback (Kyle Havens, who recently won a QB battle in practices). They have six preseason All-Americans on their roster. A lot of guys who have had starting opportunities for them went through injuries last year. They have a substantial amount of experience on their football team.”
About Kansas State:
The main questions for the Wildcats heading into this game revolve around quarterback Carson Coffman and the defense as a whole.
Fans have watched Josh Freeman, now with the Tampa Bay Bucs of the NFL, throw passes for the last three years and not much is known about the new starter Coffman. He won a tight quarterback battle with Grant Gregory in the preseason, and Snyder has indicated that he will play both signal-callers against the Minutemen.
It’s very possible that the better quarterback in this game will get the start next week against Louisiana-Lafayette.
It will also be interesting to see how Daniel Thomas fares at running back and what receivers outside of Brandon Banks post good efforts.
But what I will have a closer eye on is the defense. In particular, I will be interested to see how the defensive line performs.
Injuries are always a mystery with Kansas State, but it’s clear that promising lineman Brandon Harold is out. Going up against an experienced offensive line and an explosive running back, like UMass has, will be a very good litmus test for the unit.
But everyone on that side of the field will be challenged. A year ago, the Wildcats’ defensive struggles were so large that holding an opponent to 30 points seemed like a victory.
“That was just horrible,” said senior linebacker Courtney Herndon. “You don’t want to be remembered like that.”
No, you don’t.
But all of that resets Saturday.
It’s a new season for everybody, and Kansas State players and fans are looking forward to the fresh start.
When K-State runs the ball: K-State
When UMass runs the ball: UMass
When K-State throws the ball: K-State
When UMass throws the ball: Push
Special Teams: K-State
Prediction: K-State 34, UMass 17