MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State coach Chris Klieman knows better than just about anyone the perils of overlooking Southern Illinois.
Klieman spent most of his career in the Missouri Valley, first as a player and assistant coach at Northern Iowa and later as the head coach at North Dakota State. Along the way, Klieman's teams made it a habit of beating teams from Power Five conferences, including a road upset of the Wildcats when he was in charge of the Bison.
So it hardly matters that Kansas State looked so good in a season-opening win over Stanford last weekend. All that matters now is making sure there is no letdown with the Salukis coming to town for the Wildcats' home opener Saturday night.
“The Missouri Valley is a really good league. I think a lot of our teams in our league know that," Klieman said earlier this week, gazing out at a room full of skeptical reporters. “I wish you guys had the appreciation I do for the eight years I spent at NDSU and how good the football really was.”
Southern Illinois, the eighth-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision, certainly looked good in its opener. Its quarterback, Nic Baker, set a school record with 460 yards passing in a 47-21 blowout of Southeast Missouri State.
But just as Klieman knows the danger in overlooking the Salukis, so does Southern Illinois coach Nick Hill know that the Wildcats and Redhawks are hardly the same level of opponent. Kansas State rolled to a 24-7 win over the Cardinal last weekend, earning votes in the Top 25 for the Football Bowl Subdivision in Tuesday's poll.
“It's a great opponent,” Hill acknowledged. “Any time you play a Power Five opponent there's the obvious things: They've got more depth, more scholarships, all that kind of stuff. But we've been here before. This is our sixth season and we've always played FBS schools. This one happens to be as good as we've played. They proved that in Week 1.”
AGED TO PERFECTION
Good luck finding a more experienced team than Southern Illinois, which has 17 sixth-year seniors and two more fifth-year seniors on the roster. The Salukis also return all five offensive lineman who started the final three games of last season.
“Southern Illinois has a bunch of wrinkles in their offense, and they want to get the ball to the playmakers,” Kansas State linebacker Ryan Hennington said. “It just comes down to us being disciplined and playing our assignment, understanding what they’re trying to do, and how they’re trying to manipulate us.”