Fargo

In five years at North Dakota State, Chris Klieman lost six games as the head coach. Only once did it feel like the Bison were outgunned from start to finish and only twice did it feel like winning the game just wasn't in the cards.

But never did it feel like the Bison weren't going to be the favorites, sometimes overwhelmingly so, in their remaining games. The losses, even the two that were not particularly pretty by NDSU standards, were viewed more as an aberration than any cause for serious concern.

Klieman said essentially the same thing to the assembled media after the Bison lost 23-3 to Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls in 2014 and 33-21 to South Dakota State in Brookings in 2017: "We're going to be OK, guys. We're not going to win every game. We'll be fine."

And so it was. NDSU won Football Championship Subdivision national titles both those seasons.

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That's why things will be so interesting going forward for Klieman and the band of assistants who followed him to Kansas State after last season.

They are entering uncharted territory.

The Wildcats lost 26-13 at Oklahoma State on Saturday night in a weather-delayed contest that felt much more one-sided than the 13-point difference. The Cowboys rushed for 373 yards, including 296 from Chuba Hubbard, and outgained Kansas State 526-244. Oklahoma State, a team Kansas State has been competitive with even in the years the Wildcats struggled, led 23-3 in the fourth quarter and looked liked the faster, fresher, more athletic and more aggressive team.

It is Klieman's first defeat as Kansas State's coach after a 3-0 start that was universally lauded across college football. USA Today last week ran a glowing piece about Klieman's early success in Manhattan.

Now there will be some questions and the passionate Kansas State fan base will watch to see how Klieman and his Wildcats respond.

"Like I told the guys, I'm not going to change," Klieman said in his postgame remarks late Saturday night. "They don't know that because we haven't had a loss. I promised those guys I'm not going to change. I'm still going to challenge them. I'm still going to love them. I'm still going to be the same guy. The challenge to them is don't you guys change."

Kansas State's 31-24 victory the previous week at Mississippi State raised expectations after the Wildcats opened with easy victories over Nicholls State of the FCS and Bowling Green of the Mid-American Conference. Mississippi State is a Southeastern Conference team, one that walloped the Wildcats last season in Manhattan.

But the victory in Starkville was not without flaws and the coaching staff seemed most happy the Wildcats overcame mistakes and turnovers to grind out a win. Kansas State will not be the most talented and athletic team against many well-regarded major conference opponents, thanks to lackadaisical recruiting from legendary Bill Snyder for a number of years, but Klieman and Co. believed being disciplined defensively and controlling the ball offensively would yield dividends.

It's a different situation than NDSU. The Bison are usually the most talented and deepest team in FCS, in addition to being fabulously coached, so the advantages over most opponents are extreme. Kansas State is a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 program and will find itself as an underdog in many games going forward.

Baylor is up next for Kansas State, followed by Texas Christian. It's not as easy to right the ship against those teams as it is, say, Missouri State or Southern Illinois.

Still later in the schedule are Oklahoma and Texas.

The good news is Kansas State needs only to go 3-5 over its final eight games to be bowl-eligible.

"We have a good football team. We have a bunch of great players, a bunch of great leaders," Klieman said. "Nothing is going to change from us as a coaching staff. We still believe in you. We still trust we're going to move forward and get better. They've got to do the same thing, flush this one and get ready to go on Monday."

Klieman's teams at NDSU were 5-0 following defeats. One of the losses, in 2016 to James Madison, came in the playoff semifinals so there was no game the next week.

That means the Bison never lost consecutive games in Klieman's five years.

In 2014, they beat Missouri State 45-10 after losing to Northern Iowa.

In 2015, they beat Weber State 41-14 after losing to Montana and Indiana State 28-14 after losing to South Dakota.

In 2016, they beat Western Illinois 21-13 after losing to SDSU and had their season ended by a loss in the playoffs to James Madision.

In 2017, they beat South Dakota 49-14 after losing to SDSU.

In 2018, they didn't lose.

Nobody expected Klieman to have that kind of success at Kansas State. It's a different world.

It'll be fascinating to see how the head coach and his former Bison assistants handle that world going forward.