MANHATTAN — Chris Klieman has done his best to downplay the significance of his Football Bowl Subdivision head coaching debut.

Same with the fact that it's the beginning of a new era in Kansas State football.

But his players know, which is why they may view the Wildcats' 6 p.m. season opener Saturday against Nicholls at Bill Snyder Family Stadium a bit differently than they would an ordinary nonconference game.

"It's really important for a new era, for Coach Klieman and just K-State football in general," junior quarterback Skylar Thompson said. "Because it's highly anticipated for us players, obviously, and for the coaches, but imagine what the K-State fan base is like, too.

"They haven't seen, how's our offense going to look? How's our defense going to look? There's a lot of anticipated moments that are coming up."

Junior cornerback Walter Neil said Klieman set the tone for the season from the moment he stepped on campus last December as successor to legendary coach Bill Snyder.

"The first day he came in, he had a meeting with the team and he was like, 'This is you all's team. I'm a player's coach. As long as you all can be responsible and can be accountable, I'll give you all the freedom to do things.' After that, he's been the same," Neil said. "He's come in here, and everything he's said he would do, he did."

What Klieman lacked in FBS pedigree, he made up for with a near-perfect track record at Football Championship Subdivision power North Dakota State, where he won four national titles in five years.

He started his head coaching stint at North Dakota State with a victory over Iowa State, and ironically he now makes his FBC debut against FCS school Nicholls, which went 9-4 last year and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

"I don't know, because I've never been here before, but in the same respect I know what those teams are going through and I know you prepare all summer and all fall camp for your opportunities to play an FBS opponent," Klieman said of facing Nicholls, which beat Kansas on the road to start last season. "We talked about that with the team, that it's a big opportunity for Nicholls.

"But in the same respect, I think it's a big opportunity for our players at Kansas State to put their best foot forward in what we hope to be a really successful season."

The fact that K-State had to rally from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit in last year's opener to beat South Dakota, another FCS team, 27-24, already had the Wildcats' attention.

"Obviously it's super important," said senior offensive lineman Evan Curl, who is expected to make his first career start at left guard against Nicholls. "Obviously everybody likes to win, but just to help the program improve, and I think it's a really big year for us to really show how good of a coaching staff we've got.

"We owe it to them, because they've been nothing but great to us. I think we've just come together as a team and really would like to show that to everyone else who may not know what they've really meant to us."

Klieman's arrival at K-State was greeted with some skepticism, given his lack of FBS experience. But nothing will win over the doubters more quickly than success on the field, and it all starts Saturday night.

"For me, I've seen behind the scenes the work that coach Klieman has put into this season — and our coaching staff — and that just makes me want to go win so badly for them," Thompson said.

The players, said senior free safety Denzel Goolsby, are all in.

"They've taken ownership of the program. Coach Klieman always talks about that," Goolsby said. "You're going to see a highly energized team, guys who are playing with a lot more swagger and really ready to go out there and make a statement."

And it will be a team eager to show that Klieman is the right man for the job.

"Just knowing that he's earned our trust and knowing that we can trust him," Goolsby said, "that just makes us want to play for him and show the fans that this was a great decision and he deserves to be here."