MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Defending Big 12 champion Kansas State opens its 109th season of college football tonight, when the No. 12/12 Wildcats host Western Kentucky. It is just the second time in five years that K-State will be making its season debut in the friendly confines of KSU Stadium and the Wildcats will be putting a 14-game winning streak in season openers on the line. The Cats have not dropped a season opener since Snyder's inaugural campaign, when K-State lost at Arizona Sate, 31-0, in Sun Devil Stadium on Sept. 9, 1989. A victory over Western Kentucky would extend the Wildcats' winning streak in home openers to 15 games and tie the school record.
Tonight’s Match Up
Coming off a spectacular 2003 campaign during which the Wildcats posted an 11-4 overall record (6-2 Big 12), the programs first Big 12 Championship and first BCS bowl berth (11th in a row overall), Head Coach Bill Snyder returns six starters on offense and four on defense along with a pair of specialists for his 16th season at the helm.
The list of offensive holdovers includes Heisman Trophy candidate Darren Sproles, who led the nation in total rushing yards during 2003, along with tight end Brian Casey, wide receiver Antoine Polite, tackles Jon Doty and Jeromey Clary, and guard-turned-center Mike Johnson. On defense, tackle Jermaine Berry, linebacker Ted Sims, safety Jesse Tetuan and cornerback Cedrick Williams once again dot the Wildcat lineup.
But despite having just 11 returning starters on the roster, the perception of Kansas State football on both a regional and national level has barely skipped a beat.
The Wildcats have debuted in the top 15 of both major polls and have also been the Big 12 media's choice to repeat as North Division champions.
Looking to carry on Kansas State's offensive tradition will be sophomore quarterback Dylan Meier. The Pittsburg, Kan., product will become the first Kansan to start a season opener at quarterback during the Bill Snyder era at Kansas State when he leads the Wildcat offense on the field for its first series of the season. Meier appeared in just four games at quarterback last season, all as a reserve, completing five of eight passes for 78 yards. And Meier will have quite a legacy to live up to as none of Kansas State's seven quarterbacks during the Snyder era that have made their first career start in a season opener have ever lost.
New weapons will be out to make Meier's transition a smooth one as Yamon Figurs, Tony Madison and Rashaad Norwood join returnees Polite, Davin Dennis, Jermaine Moreira and Casey in K-State's receiver and tight end rotation.
Kansas State will also be unveiling a re-tooled offensive line tonight with guards Michael Weiner and Malcolm Wooldridge slated to make their first starts.
Looks are deceiving on the defensive side of the ball, where just four players who started at least 50 percent of last year's games return. The truth is that the majority of the cast brings back a good measure of playing experience and plenty of depth from the junior college ranks has been added to shore up any potential holes.
Up front Berry, a Lombardi Award candidate, is expected to anchor the line, with veterans Quintin Echols, Derek Marso and strong-man Andrew Bulman rotating in the inside mix.
Experienced ends Scott Edmonds and Kevin Huntley will get the majority of work on the ends with Alax Carrier and Blake Seiler as well as newcomer Tearrius George providing depth.
Circumstances among the linebacking corps and secondary are similar, with plenty of battle-tested talent on hand. Linebackers Ted Sims, a Butkus Award nominee, and Matt Butler have both appeared in K-State's starting lineup, while in the secondary, Jesse Tetuan is the Wildcats’ most experienced defensive player with 17 career starts and Cedrick Williams has developed a reputation as K-State's next lockdown cornerback.
On special teams, Joe Rheem is Kansas State’s most recent Lou Groza Award nominee. He enters the season with 215 career points and will be out to become just the second Wildcat in school history to break the 300-point threshold.
Across the field, second-year Western Kentucky head coach David Elson looks to build on a 9-4 campaign that saw the Hilltoppers reach the second round of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
WKU enters the season ranked No. 14 in the ESPN/USA Today I-AA Coaches' Poll and returns 10 starters (5 offense, 4 defense, 1 kicker), including quarterback Justin Haddix, who completed 113 of 223 passes for 1,875 yards, and running back Lerron Moore, a nearly 1,500-yard rusher. Inside linebacker Charles Thompson, who collected 110 total tackles during 2003, is back to lead the Hilltoppers on defense.
Kansas State Head Coach Bill Snyder, architect of what many believe to be the greatest turnaround in the history of college football, is in his 16th season at the helm of the Wildcat football program.
During his tenure in Manhattan, Snyder has guided K-State to an impressive 127-55-1 record. He is the second winningest coach in the country since the start of the 1993 season, guiding the Wildcats to 109 wins and posting a winning percentage of nearly 80 percent.
He has also guide Kansas State to 11 consecutive bowl games - a feat accomplished by only six other programs in the country - and 11-win seasons in six of the last seven years.
David Elson is in his second year as Western Kentucky's head coach. He led the Hilltoppers to a 9-4 record and a berth in the NCAA 1-AA playoffs during his debut season. At 32 years of age, Elson is the youngest football coach currently directing a Division I program. He was named WKU's head football coach March 5, 2003, after serving as defensive coordinator for Western Kentucky's 2002 NCAA I-AA national championship team.
Tonight's game between Kansas State and Gateway Conference member Western Kentucky will be the third meeting between the two schools and the second encounter in the last three seasons. K-State and WKU first squared off during the 1993 season, with the Wildcats knocking off the Hilltoppers 38-13. The most recent meeting occurred just two seasons ago, as Kansas State opened the 2002 campaign with a 48-3 win over WKU. Kansas State is 7-3 all-time vs. current members of the Gateway Conference.