There are a few other games that could fit the criteria as most important game.
Oklahoma State is the first Big 12 game in a place that Kansas State rarely wins. Since 1998, the Wildcats have only won in Stillwater twice.
That could be the most important game on the schedule because it’s when “the real season” starts and it is an opportunity for them to get the monkey off their back by winning on the road, so to speak. Though, Skylar Thompson did it in 2017.
Iowa State is a rivalry game against a school who K-State clashes with frequently on the recruiting trail. It is also a revenge spot, as the Cyclones blew the Wildcats out 45-0 a year ago. The magnitude of it could dictate it as the most important.
Kansas State has defeated Oklahoma two years in a row, and the Sooners will be looking for redemption with Lincoln Riley’s best team in Norman, in my opinion. It could be a huge game, nationally, if the Wildcats were able to jump out to a hot start.
There’s others to point to, but Stanford is coming off back-to-back poor seasons. In 2019, the Cardinal finished 4-8 and were largely non-competitive in their losses. In a shortened 2020 season, they finished 4-2, but only beat one team with a winning record.
They were also annihilated by Oregon, who fell haplessly to Matt Campbell’s bunch in the Fiesta Bowl.
The outcome versus Stanford will set the tone for the season. We’ve heard a lot about the positive morale surrounding the team throughout the offseason and into spring practice. A loss against Stanford would not be overly detrimental to it, but it could cause doubt.
Since 2014, K-State has only knocked off one Power Five non-conference opponent. In that span, the losses include Mississippi State, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Auburn. The lone win did come under Chris Klieman when they defeated the Bulldogs in Starkville in 2019.
While the spotlight won’t be as bright as expected, it is still there and a good time to impress recruits. It’s a matchup versus a Power Five program that has had a lot of success, in an NFL stadium and in an extremely important recruiting area for the program.
It doesn’t feel like the other games mentioned carry the same weight if the Wildcats are unable to win in the season opener. The high of a new season could come crashing down with a loss. Especially against a team whose over/under win total for the season is just 3.5.
The matchup with Oklahoma State presents a pretty good argument. It is the first Big 12 game of the new campaign, but Stanford really dictates the direction of the 2021 regular season.
If they are able to show up and dominate, it would be hard to not feel good about the rest of the year.