The opportunity that stands in front of K-State could provide the program with its first season-defining win since defeating No. 6 Oklahoma on Sept. 29, 2012.
The program has a history of performing well on the biggest stages and it stretches back to one of its most important wins in November 1998.
The Wildcats were dominating the Cornhuskers on that memorable November evening. They soared through the first nine weeks of the season, only playing one game within 32 points. In week 10, they faced the No. 11 Cornhuskers, who they had not defeated since 1959.
Led by Heisman candidate Michael Bishop, the Wildcats won 40-30. While the team was already in the national spotlight that season, the win planted them firmly in the conversation for the national championship.
In 2002, No. 11 USC visited Manhattan. The Trojans were led by quarterback Carson Palmer, who eventually won the Heisman Trophy. Just like their big game four years earlier, the Wildcats came out on top. The following week, the team jumped 12 spots in the polls.
In Norman two years ago, a great defensive effort and performance from Collin Klein push the Wildcats from No. 15 in the country to No. 7.
K-State has the chance to add a chapter to the impressive list of wins against top teams. Beating No. 5 Auburn would put the Wildcats in the college football playoff conversation.
The Wildcats have not been perfect and have had their share of blunders, but head coach Bill Snyder’s bunch is not commonly known to be unprepared.
Obviously, earning a victory against the fifth ranked team in the nation will be no cakewalk. The Tigers have a dominant rushing attack. They average 330 yards per game on the ground, which is sixth best in the country. Their ground attack is led by a trio of seniors.
Auburn’s success isn’t just limited to their two games against less-than-stellar teams this season. They averaged 328.3 rushing yards per game last season. They lost their 2013 leading rusher, Tre Mason, but still have a very talented backfield.
Stopping a team this explosive will be a huge challenge for the K-State defense. The Wildcats have had a fair share of criticism directed to that side of the ball. That criticism is not based in statistics, though. Bill Snyder’s squad allows only 87 yards per game on the ground, which is 20th in the nation.
K-State’s biggest advantage may be in the passing game. The Tigers allowed their opponents to pass for 258.6 in 2013. Senior Jake Waters is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation and could take advantage of their somewhat porous defense.
Auburn has seemingly improved on defense this season, but they have not played the most challenging opponents in their schedule. If the Wildcats win this game, it will be because Waters torched their defense.
The opponent is daunting for Snyder’s team. They have found a way to win these sorts of games in the coach’s career. They have also gotten blown out in situations like this.
With a win, K-State has a chance to do something very special. With a loss, the team can still win the Big 12 but their national significance takes a huge hit. No matter the outcome, Thursday night’s contest will define the season for the Wildcats.