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August 29, 2013There's a myriad of ways college football programs use the first game of the season. Some utilize it to gauge offseason improvements of their returning players. Others throw budding stars into the fire to see how well they adjust to the spotlight. Heck, many schools just want to shake off the cobwebs and figure out depth by pouncing on an inferior opponent and an assortment of additional schools are just in it for a hefty paycheck.
And while there is no right or wrong answer of how to put an initial contest to use, there's almost always a practical purpose.
Heading into a rare Friday night contest in front of what should be a boisterous sold out crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium and national television audience, K-State's objective for the season opener should be all about setting the tone. Not only do the Wildcats have the usual low outside expectations and have something to prove once again, but they also are playing a team in North Dakota State that is experienced, talented and as confident as a runway model.
For the Wildcats, it's going to be about taking care of business and establishing their presence from the outset.
"It's crucial to get off to a great start," K-State junior center and team co-captain B.J. Finney said. "If you don't get off to a great start, it kind of puts a bigger burden on you to get things turned around and to get things corrected to make sure you get on track."
Two years ago, the Wildcats failed to do just that against Eastern Kentucky and needed late heroics from a new starting quarterback and fresh-faced defense to escape with the victory. Now, under similar circumstances and even though the 2011 season was successful, it will be crucial for coach Bill Snyder's squad to learn from that game and come out ready to set the tone.
"We just have to work hard," Finney continued. "North Dakota State, they're a great team, so we're going to have to be on top of our game plan. We're going to have to execute."
North Dakota State might be a Football Championship Subdivision (or Division I-AA) team, but make no mistake: The program known for its tough and physical play has earned the right to be confident. The Bison are two-time defending FCS national champions, have 21 returning starters, are ranked No. 1 in the preseason FCS poll and have won the last three contests against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. It's a far different team than the Wildcats are used to playing this time of year and it's up to them to set the tone for the game and the entire 2013 season.
"We're going to show them that we are a tough team, just like they are," junior wide receiver and team co-captain Tyler Lockett said. "We want to be able to show them that we're not just going to take any team lightly or take any team for granted, but we're going to treat every team the same. We're going to go out there, we're going to fight, we're going to try to be consistent in every area and we're just going to go out there and give it our all."
"We just want to show that we can be tougher than them because that's what they're known for out there," starting fullback Glenn Gronkowski added. "We just want to get out there, first play, and show that we're tough and that we're not going to back down easy."
On the flip side, this isn't the typical game for NDSU, either. This contest isn't against programs such as Kansas, Minnesota or Colorado State, the three FBS-level teams its defeated. The Bison are playing the defending Big 12 Conference champions on a night where the program unveils its new $75 million seven-story castle known as the West Stadium Center. It's going to be a daunting environment and this is a completely different monster they're about to encounter.
"This is not just a blip in the road," said NDSU coach Craig Bohl, who used to be the defensive coordinator at Nebraska. "These guys have been good for a long, long time. If you look at college football right now, they are a big time play so it's going to be a great opportunity for us."
The opportunity is certainly there for the Bison to upset a Wildcat team who has a new starting quarterback in junior college transfer Jake Waters and a defense with limited experience after losing nine starters to graduation. Then again, the opportunity is always there as several high-major programs have fallen to FCS-level schools. It happens. But North Dakota State, in particular its fans, isn't shy to boast about past success and perhaps future triumphs, which has only added fuel to the fire.
"I'm sure they are talking about our defensive line, saying that we're young and inexperienced, but my goal this Friday is to show that we are a defensive line that's young but we're talented," sophomore defensive tackle Travis Britz said. "We know what we're going and we can handle anything you throw at us.
"We really want to encourage to see that we're not just some pushover defensive line. We can hold our own and execute."
Talk is cheap, but it's always common leading up the first game. After all, it's the only thing people have had for the past few months. And now it's time for K-State to prove the doubters wrong, quiet the talkers and use the season opener to set the tone for the entire season and make an early statement.
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