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Quartet of new Big 12 coaches face statement games

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Kansas State rolled past Nicholls to begin Chris Klieman’s tenure with the Wildcats in style, then trounced Bowling Green last weekend to keep the momentum going.

Time for the first big test of the season.

The Wildcats head to Mississippi State for a Big 12-SEC showdown on Saturday.

“Wouldn’t it be fun if we didn’t face any adversity the whole year? Yeah, that would be great,” Klieman said with a grin. “We know there’s going to be adversity and probably going to be adversity this week. There’s so many guys that have played in big games that I’m counting those guys to rise up, and more importantly challenging those guys who have not played at this level yet.

“It’s no different than us going at each other on Wednesday in August, when tempers are flaring and we are going ones-versus-ones,” Klieman continued. “It’ll be a different atmosphere for sure, but that’s the competitive spirit and excitement you want.”

Want it or not, Klieman and his bunch are about to get it.

They’re not alone, either.

All four new coaches in the Big 12 have a chance to make a statement this weekend, beginning with Kansas, which tries to bounce back from a stunning home loss to Coastal Carolina with a trip to Boston College on Friday night. West Virginia likewise faces an ACC foe in North Carolina State on Saturday, while Texas Tech gets a Big 12-Pac 12 matchup at Arizona.

“Certainly, Saturday night will be our biggest challenge,” said Red Raiders coach Matt Wells, whose team has romped past Montana State and UTEP to open the season. “I look forward to watching our guys handle some adversity, and how that plays out after that, we’ll all see together.”

Wells and the rest of the league will see.

The rest of the nation, too.

It’s a big weekend for the Big 12 as a whole. Iowa State is gearing up for a visit from No. 19 Iowa, its biggest rival, while TCU heads to Purdue for a Big 12-Big Ten game and fifth-ranked Oklahoma heads to UCLA for another game against the Pac-12, albeit against a rebuilding program.

But the brightest spotlight might well be on the Big 12’s new coaches.

Klieman and Wells are off to unbeaten starts, and their teams have hardly been challenged by a combined four lower-tier opponents. But that also means the Wildcats and Red Raiders face the biggest step up in competition, and for Kansas State a chance to avenge a loss to the Bulldogs last year.

“The first two weeks, I think the reason we’ve had success is we haven’t looked ahead,” Klieman said. “We’ve stayed on task over the course of each day in our preparation. That’s what we’re trying to build here. We talk about stacking great days, and that’s what we have to do to be successful.”

It’s a similar message that Wells is preaching in his first road game with Texas Tech, which has dominated Arizona in the past but hasn’t faced the Wildcats since 1989.

“I think the biggest thing for our players and young kids in general is try to keep it as the same and as routine as you can, even though you’re in a different environment,” Wells said. “It’s a different stadium and the colors are different and it’s not your own locker room and you understand that, but you try to do things to get them comfortable with it as soon as you can.”

The Jayhawks will be hitting the road for the first time under Les Miles, too — not that playing at Memorial Stadium did them any good. They lost to 12-7 to Coastal Carolina last week. Boston College has beaten Virginia Tech and Richmond to start its season.

Then there’s West Virginia, which flopped in its first road game with Neal Brown on the sideline. The Mountaineers barely gained positive yardage on the ground, gave up huge plays on defense and never put up much of a fight in a 38-7 throttling by Missouri.

The Mountaineers, who were fortunate to hold off James Madison in their opener, now return home to face a Wolfpack team that has outscored East Carolina and Western Carolina by a combined 75-6.

“I think this is our first real test — the first real adversity — this football team has had and how do we handle it? How do we respond?” Brown asked. “I think this week will be a good indication of where we’re at as far as being able to respond to things that don’t necessarily go our way.

“Growth occurs in failure and we failed on Saturday,” he said, “so it’s time to get better.”

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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