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Kevin Schnepf, Published August 30 2013

Bison fans say: bring on the Kansas heat

MANHATTAN, Kan. - North Dakota State football fans, tailgating under the hot Kansas sun that generated 100-degree temperatures today, conveyed this message prior to tonight's season-opening showdown with Kansas State: bring on the Kansas heat.

"We're going to win," said Dave Bartels, who drove his motor home down here Thursday from his home in Enderlin, N.D. "We have a good team."

So does Kansas State, which flirted with a national championship last year. Its football program has been solid for years under the guidance of head coach Bill Snyder.

The big question marks for Kansas State is at quarterback and defense. It will be starting a junior college transfer at quarterback for the first time - replacing last year's Heisman Trophy candidate Collin Klein. And its defense has only three returning starters.

"This will be our biggest test ever," said Ryan Bergstrom, an NDSU civil engineering graduate who flew to Manhattan all the way from Portland, Ore. "But on the other hand, this is the best team we've ever had."

Bergstrom was one of thousands of Bison fans who found tailgating spots in a pasture about one mile northeast of Bill Snyder Stadium. The area is part of Kansas State's agricultural department.

Bergstrom remembers when he first started tailgating when he was an NDSU freshman in 1998. In the rain, they wore black garbage bags, had one Weber grill and a pickup.

He and four of his friends has a much more elaborate setup Friday. Their 22-foot trailer was equipped with two 52-inch flat screen TV's - one hooked up to a direct-TV satellite reception device and the other replaying last year's national championship game.

On the floor of the trailer was pieces of the old Fargodome playing turf. Outside the open-air window of the trailer was a portable bar filled up by a couple dozen friends.

"It's quite a change from the old tailgating days," Bergstrom said.

Tony Ambrose of West Fargo, who was in a nearby tailgating spot, offered these thoughts about tonight's game.

"The Bison are experienced and Kansas State is very athletic, talented and well coached," Ambrose said. "But when it comes down to it, I think experience will win. If nothing else, we're having a heck of a time."

Peter Wawers, formerly of Wahpeton, N.D., drove 2 1/2 hours from his home in Lincoln, Neb. he was standing next to Kansas State graduate Bill Brown of Minneapolis, whose purple-colored shirt contrasted with Wawers' yellow shirt.

"I saw him park next to me and I joked that he was in the wrong spot ... are you color blind?" Wawers said.

Wawers, who made it back to Manhattan for the first time in 20 years, works for Jim Glass of Fargo. He runs an oil business.

"I was really confident that they (the Bison) would play with these guys, but I'm afraid of this heat," Glas said. "This is Gunsmoke heat. They have 85 scholarships and we have 65. Heat could be a factor."

Dan Leake of Oxbow, who drove down in his RV with his wife Beth, thinks the Bison need a couple breaks to win tonight.

"When it comes to strength and conditioning, we will be alright," Leake said. "If we can neutralize their talent, we have a chance."

At one of the tailgating area sat the Stanley Stout Center. It was air conditioned. Chris Eckert of Hillsboro, N.D., was one of many Bison fans taking advantage of the indoor comfort.

"We're going on a 1 1/2 hours of sleep," said Eckert, who along with his friends arrived in Manhattan at 6:30 a.m. today. "If we can keep the game close ... you never know what will happen."

Erick Carlson, an NDSU graduate who has lived in Wichita, Kan., for the last three years, couldn't pass up a chance to watch his Bison. Standing in the shade of an awning, Carlson too was lamenting the heat.

"We had one nice summer going until a few days ago ... it was actually pretty cool," Carlson said. "I think it will be the Bison tonight because they have the defense. Our offense will do just enough to eke it out."

Bison fans, some who started gathering under the hot sun as early as 9 a.m., will find out tonight.