Kansas State and Michigan are meeting for the first time in history on the football field in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Saturday in Tempe, Ariz. Both teams have identical 7-5 season records. K-State, however, was better in conference play, finishing fifth in the Big 12 with a 5-4 record, while the Wolverines, with a 3-5 record against Big Ten opponents, were fifth in their six-team Legends Division.
Michigan started the season ranked No. 17 in both the AP and the USA Today national polls. The Wolverines won five of their first six games, but ended the season in a free fall, losing four of the final six regular-season games, including a one-point home loss to archrival Ohio State, probably Michigan’s best overall game of the season..
Kansas State’s season tracked in an entirely different direction from Michigan’s. The Wildcats began the season losing four of their first six games, including their first three league game against Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, which were all tied for first place with one loss each going into the final weekend of the regular season. The Wildcats ended the regular season on a high, though, going 5-1 over the second half of the schedule.
“I was at Iowa for 10 years and when Bo Schembechler was at Michigan. We played them every single year, and I know what that is like,” said Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder in describing his team’s preparation to play the Wolverines. “They are a very physical football team. They are a team that will beat you with fundamentals and execution and toughness.
“If you look at the quarterback (junior Devin Gardner), which I think it is interesting that he wears No. 98 on the back of his jersey, which probably stands for how many touchdowns he scores,” Snyder said. “He is a very athletic young guy, and you see that he is a 6-4 quarterback that can run around. The running back (senior Fitzgerald Toussaint) is a s good as you see anywhere. he can run with the football. He can run aggressively. He’s got speed…and the ability to move and make you miss.”
But Snyder and the Wildcats won’t have to worry about Gardner. Wolverine head coach Brady Hoke has announced that Gardner won’t play in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl because of a foot injury he suffered in Michigan’s last game against Ohio State. Gardner will be replaced by freshman Shane Norris, who has played in only parts of two games this season and has thrown just nine passes, completing five for a total of 65 yards.
Both teams average about the same in scoring offense (33 points a game), but K-State appears to play better team defense, and the Wildcat secondary will be bolstered by the return of All-Big 12 performer Ty Zimmerman at safety. Zimmerman sat out the final two game of the regular season with an injury.
Kansas State’s offense has been fairly balanced this season (2,165 yards rushing and 2,650 passing). The Wildcats are able to throw the ball effectively with Jake Waters at quarterback and wide receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, and they can also run the ball with backup quarterback Daniel Sams and senior running back John Hubert getting most of the carries. They are comfortable keeping the ball on the ground or passing, taking what the defense will give them. The Michigan defense has been stronger against the running game, so expect K-State to try to stretch the Wolverine defense with the passing game.
Three Keys To Watch For In the Game
- Kansas State led the Big 12 this season in third-down efficiency, converting almost 50 percent of its third-down attempts. Michigan ranked eighth in the Big Ten in getting third-down stops, at 62 percent efficiency.
- Michigan has had great difficulty all season long getting anything going in its ground game. They won’t find any relief trying to run against K-State, which means the Wolverines will lean on its paasing attack to move the ball and sustain drives against the Wildcat “D.” Unfortunately for the Big Blue, Kansas State’s pass defense is the third best in the Big 12.
- Both teams are hungry for a bowl win. Kansas State has lost its last five bowl appearances and Michigan has won just two of its past 10 bowl games. The good news is that somebody in this game is going to snap a lengthy bowl losing streak.
Game prediction: Kansas State 35, Michigan 17 - Michigan is without its starting QB, and the K-State offense is too strong and balanced for the Wolverines’ defense, which will take its toll later in the game.