By JOHN K. WILEY
Associated Press Writer
SPOKANE, Wash. - Montana State coach Mike Kramer knows the odds are long - very long - when his Bobcats meet No. 19 Washington State Thursday night.
Montana State. a Division I-AA team, is facing its first-ever Top 25 Division I-A opponent in the unbeaten Cougars. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. PDT at Martin Stadium in Pullman.
The game is a replacement for Sept. 15 games - MSU at Oregon State and Colorado at Washington State that were canceled following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Kramer originally opposed the idea of stepping out of conference play to take on a higher division school, giving the Bobcats (4-2) a "thousand-to-one chance" of winning.
But Kramer changed his mind and warmed to the idea of a regionally televised game that will make $150,000 for the athletic department and have the players back home that night.
"The way we're traveling will really help us this week, being able to fly in Wednesday night and sleep in our own beds on Thursday night," Kramer said. "Missing only one day of class is what made the decision to play this game an easy one."
When the game was scheduled after the third week of the season, the Cougars looked at it as a possible sixth win that could help them become eligible for a postseason bowl.
At 6-0, after their best start since 1997, the Cougars already are eligible, but don't want to overlook the Bobcats.
Washington State coach Mike Price, who came to WSU 13 years ago from the Big Sky Conference's Weber State, is keeping his team focused on this week's opponent, not on Oregon, which visits Pullman Oct. 27.
At practice this week, Cougar coaches mentioned Troy State's upset of Mississippi State last weekend as incentive.
"I'm not really trying to emphasize that side of it too much, I don't want them to think about it," Price said Tuesday. "You just don't want to underestimate any opponent. Coming from the Big Sky, I know what that game means to those guys. They'll be fired up."
"If you are underestimating your opponents, you don't watch tape, you don't focus in practice, you don't run hard. Our guys are doing those things." Price said. "They want to win, and they want to win as big as they can."
Although they were 0-11 last year in Kramer's first season at Bozeman, Mont., the Bobcats have averaged more than 33 points in their four wins this season.
"Montana State's team speed is much, much better than I thought it would be," Price said. "I think Mike Kramer has done a great job there. They are really athletic. I don't see a weakness on their team or in their program right now."
Kramer said the Cougars will be a test of his team's resolve.
"Jason Gesser and his excellent corps of receivers, their greatly improved line, and their long tradition of playing outstanding defense are right in front of us now," Kramer said. "This game reiterates the fact that we are a team that has good speed, and can play at speed, and that will be a benefit for us for the rest of the season."