Nebraska beat a historically awful Kansas State team 29 consecutive times until 1998.
After the birth of the Big 12, coach Bill Snyder helped turn the one-sided rivalry in favor of Manhattan, beating Nebraska four out of five times to begin the decade.
Kansas State hasn't won since 2004, but Snyder is back, and tonight is the Wildcats' last chance to knock off the Huskers one more time.
And an upset of the nation's No. 7-ranked team would shift the balance of the North, a division Nebraska controls as the current heavy favorite and defending champ.
"The opportunity is there every time they tee it up. It’s taking advantage of the opportunity that becomes the most significant thing. Our young people understand that and will make every effort and every attempt to take advantage of the opportunity they have," Snyder said.
All the Wildcats want now is a fourth trip to the Big 12 title game in the last year of its existence. Beating Nebraska would be a big step toward that goal.
"It all boils down to how well they prepare, play, passion they play with, execution, devotion to detail, their attentiveness, focus over the course of the ballgame and understanding that they’re going to have to play every snap of the ballgame," Snyder said. "And they understand that, I believe. They’re getting that picture."
They know it won't be easy. Nebraska will bring with it to Manhattan a defense still looking to claim a spot as one of college football's best. They were last year, and held the Wildcats to just three points in a regular-season finale that decided the division title.
"They’re quick and they went sideline to sideline," running back Daniel Thomas said of last year's defense. "They look like they’re doing the same thing this year. They’re a tough defense. We just have to go out there, muscle up, strap on the pads and go out there. I think it’ll be a brawl."
But that defense has added a running game this year headlined by Taylor Martinez, a speedy, dual-threat quarterback who's third in the Big 12 in rushing and has paced the Huskers toward the top of the national rankings in rush offense where they rank fourth. Running the ball -- specifically with the quarterback, albeit in a different option system -- is exactly how the Huskers held off the Wildcats for almost three decades. Stopping, or at least limiting, Martinez on the ground and in the air looks like a difficult task no team has mastered yet against the redshirt freshman. But do it, and that upset may become a reality.
"They’re always difficult to prepare for because they have some tremendously talented athletes and even last year, there were a variety of things that they could do," Snyder said. "But Martinez has given them that added dimension to all that. Just how difficult, I can’t put a gauge on it, but it is more difficult to defend all that they have in their playbook right now and understanding that there’s more there that we haven’t seen and understanding that some of what we have seen we won’t see on Thursday."
Kansas State is already 1-0 in conference play with a win over Iowa State earlier this season. Nebraska's run at another North title begins tonight, a chase toward a sixth trip to the Big 12 championship before a move to the Big Ten. For a Kansas State program that endured what seemed like an endless string of defeats at the hands of Big Red, the fans that will file into Bill Snyder Family Stadium for a game broadcast to the nation on ESPN would like nothing more than to stop that chase before it starts and grab hold of the North.
"I just know it’s going to be a dogfight, so we have to be prepared for that," Thomas said. "Get ready for a great game."