If Kansas State wants to schedule so-called "easy victories," that's fine by Marshall coach Bob Pruett. Just don't count on the Thundering Herd being one of them.
When the No. 6 Wildcats (4-0) and Herd (1-2) square off at 12:30 p.m. today at KSU Stadium on Fox Sports Net, it will mark the final non-conference game for Kansas State, which holds a 41-game home non-conference winning streak. Since the Big Eight became the Big 12 in 1996, the Wildcats have played just two road non-conference games, both on home-and-home deals.
Kansas State has an extended history of playing teams from lighter conferences, which has drawn criticism from the national media, saying the program pads its schedule. In every year since 1994, including this year, the combined margin of victory in non-conference games has been more than 100 points. It was nearly 200 in 1998.
This can be seen as a drawback for a Bowl Championship Series team which has national title hopes. In the BCS formula, strength of schedule rates third.
"I can't speak for the media, and I can't talk about the people they play," Pruett said. "But we had to beg them to play -- to get a home-and-home. I'm just thankful they wanted to play the Herd. Kansas State has a very tough league to play in. If they continue to play well, they'll be in the national (title) picture at the end of the season."
The Wildcats will visit Huntington in 2005. From 1994 to 2001, they were ranked for a stretch of 80 weeks and 89 of 90. They've since started a new streak, currently at 14. They do play in a tough conference; the Big 12 has won at least a share of four national titles since 1994. But their non-conference schedule only hurts.
Marshall's non-conference schedule is decidedly different. While the Herd occasionally play I-AA teams, they continue to take shots at BCS teams. Kansas State marks the second ranked opponent this year and fourth in three years.
They hung in two weeks ago against No. 12 Tennessee but fell handily to No. 7 Virginia Tech last year and No. 1 Florida in 2001. There are also recent losses to Michigan State, North Carolina and, of course, in-state rival West Virginia. On the other side of that are road upset victories at South Carolina and Clemson.
The Herd aren't going into today's game hoping to keep it close and do better than the statistics show against Kansas State. They're playing to win. With a two-game losing streak entering today, the pressure is mounting in Huntington. Marshall hasn't lost three straight since 1990.
"When you expect to win like we do, and our fans expect to win, anytime you lose two games in a row, you're going to have a lot of complaining," Pruett said. "Your e-mail goes up, and your talk radio goes up. It's how your kids handle it."
Every year, the MAC upsets a BCS team. So far this year, Northern Illinois upset Maryland, and Bowling Green shocked Purdue on the road. Miami also defeated Big Ten foe Northwestern, but the RedHawks were favored in that game.
Marshall went 13-0 in 1999 but was shut out of a BCS game. Other conferences have made noise as well. Tulane of Conference USA went 12-0 in 1998 and also was shut out of the BCS in the system's inaugural year.
BYU of the Mountain West Conference won its first 12 games in 2001 but didn't make a dent in the BCS rankings. That same year, Fresno State of the Western Athletic Conference won its first six games, including victories over Wisconsin, Oregon State and Colorado, with the same results.
"I don't think they'll let (mid-majors in the BCS) because of the financial part," he said. "That's the way it is. It's a monopoly. I think we should have a playoff and have at it."
Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.