A year ago, we wrote a list of the 10 best Thursday night games in college football history. Three of them involved an underdog upsetting a Top 5-ranked national title hopeful, and three more involved a top 10 team holding off an irascible challenger. Tonight’s Auburn at Kansas State tilt may not – and most likely will not – repeat the history of its forerunners, but it was built with the same ingredients.
First, the game that will actually take place on the field later tonight in Mahattan, Kan.
Auburn is a 7.5-point favorite on the road, and for good reason. The Tigers are the defending SEC champions, a team that came 13 seconds shy of a national title a year ago, ranked fifth in the country and looked every bit the part in beating Arkansas 45-21 and San Jose State 59-13 to open the season.
Kansas State, on the other hand, is a team whose stock is rising has not yet risen to the heights of the 2012 team that beat Oklahoma on the road, garnered a No. 1 ranking in late November and later won the Big 12. This is a team that allowed Iowa State to score 28 consecutive points, and a roster that contains 58 current or former walk-ons.
Perhaps Bill Snyder summed it up best: “We don’t have the personnel to work against that emulates the speed and the quickness and the strength and the size that they present,” Snyder said.
But then there is the type of game that Auburn-Kansas State represents.
This is just the fourth all-time meeting between the programs. The first two were a home-and-home back in 1978-79; tonight’s game is repayment for Kansas State’s visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium back in 2007 – how often do you see home-and-homes scheduled seven years apart actually get completed? That was one head coach ago for Kansas State, and two for Auburn. Despite operating in largely separate universes, there are links to the programs that make tonight even juicier. For example, the Auburn coach that Snyder tried to hire, and the Auburn quarterback Snyder tried to sign.
More importantly, Auburn doesn’t like going on the road in non-conference, and with good reason.
Since beating 1997 Virginia, Auburn has lost its last FIVE non-conf road games: 2011 Clemson, 2008 WVU, 2003 GT, 2002 USC, 2001 Syracuse
— Pete Fiutak (@PeteFiutak) September 16, 2014
Just as Auburn doesn’t make a habit of leaving the South, Kansas State doesn’t typically challenge itself outside of Big 12 play. This is the first time a ranked non-conference opponent has come to Manhattan since 2002. They haven’t hosted a Top 5 non-conference opponent since Penn State in 1969, before Snyder’s arrival, back in the pre-historic era of Kansas State football. Kansas State is expecting a record crowd tonight, with the entire campus flattened in a 24-hour football-shaped crater. It’s going to be wild. And then, of course, there is this:
State for the day: SEC West is 16-0 in non-conference play so far. — Tim Griffin (@TimGriffinBig12) September 18, 2014
Tonight’s game does not represent the best Thursday night game of the year. That honor belongs to UCLA at Arizona State next week, or LSU at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving, games with guaranteed conference title implications. But those games happen every year. If history is a guide, these specific programs won’t cross paths again for another four decades. Both programs are well outside their comfort zone, and that’s what makes it so great. Football on Thursday night was invented to be an uncomfortable experience, a deviation from the routine. It’s a link back to when upsets and near upsets happened for no other reason than it was Thursday night.
Tonight isn’t the best Thursday night game of the year, but it’s a reminder why Thursday night football was invented.