In a rare out-of-town nonconference test, Kansas State started a run at a BCS berth
At the press conference after Kansas State had beaten Southern Cal 10-6 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Wildcats coach Bill Snyder sounded like a tourist who'd had it up to here with being on the road. "I didn't like traveling," he said. "I didn't like being four hours late on Friday. It seems as if we have been here for 40 hours."
Forgive Snyder his dyspepsia. For only the second time in 13 seasons Kansas State didn't open its season at home against a lightweight. In fact, of the Wildcats' 28 nonconference opponents over the last eight regular seasons, only two went on to have winning records for the season in which they played Kansas State. Snyder recently explained his willingness to accept the home-and-home agreement with the Trojans, signed last year, by saying, "They got me in a weak moment, I guess."
In fact, the Wildcats made the deal after the BCS bowls snubbed them in 1998 and '99, even though they had finished 10-1 in each of those regular seasons. Even the K-State faithful, 20,000 of whom made the trip to L.A. for the game, believed that Snyder had to do something to counteract the negative effects of Kansas State's playing tomato cans every year. It was a change that Wildcats upperclassmen relished. "We get to show everybody that we can play these bigger schools," senior linebacker Ben Leber said last week.
Snyder did his best to embrace the change, although last Friday you could hear his teeth grinding across the Great Plains. The Wildcats' charter, making a longer flight than usual and thus weighted down with additional fuel, was deemed too heavy to take off from the short runway in Manhattan, Kans. The traveling party deplaned, took a one-hour bus ride and met the plane at a former Air Force base in Salina, which had a longer runway. That accoimted for the four-hour delay in arrival at LAX.
Once in Los Angeles, Snyder breached his road-trip protocol and held a practice at the home team's stadium. He had agreed to this two days before, when defensive coordinator Phil Bennett suggested that the players break a sweat at the Coliseum to quell their nerves before playing in such a historic venue.
Although Kansas State had only 10 starters back from last year's 11-2 team, the Wildcats took a 10-0 halftime lead and defeated the Trojans by physically dominating them. New USC coach Pete Carroll had made his defense faster by moving safeties Frank Strong and Matt Groote-good to linebacker and turning 250-pound senior Lonnie Ford into a hybrid of a defensive end and a linebacker. While the Trojans put as many as nine defenders in the box, K-State still ran the ball 57 times for 340 yards and held it for 35:27 Senior tailback Josh Scobey rushed for 165 yards, and sophomore quarterback Ell Roberson rushed for 119 in his first start.
Snyder hasn't decided whether he'll schedule more teams of USC's caliber after the Trojans' visit to Manhattan next season. "It's a matter of saying, 'O.K., we'll go down this road one time and see what it brings, see if it's beneficial for us,' " he said before the game. Besides, he has to get Kansas State ready for home dates with Louisiana Tech (3-9 last year) and New Mexico State (3-8) the next two Saturdays.
Eli Manning's SEC Debut
Archie's Son Gets A Wake-up Call
Making his first start in front of the home fans at Ole Miss on Sept. 1 was nerve-racking enough for sophomore Eli Manning, who carries the added weight of being the only one of Archie Manning's three sons to follow in Archie's footsteps as a Rebels quarterback. However, as Eli found out last Saturday, going on the road in the SEC can be infinitely more stressful. Well aware that Manning had established school records the week before against Murray State with 18 consecutive completions and five touchdown passes, the vaunted Auburn defense was lying in wait for him. Although the Tigers sacked the 6'5", 212-pound Manning only once in raucous Jordan-Hare Stadium, they hurried him into one interception and 11 throwaways in a 27-21 Auburn victory.