Wildcats, Wolverines set to meet in the desert

Kansas State followed up last year’s BCS bowl run with a thud,

opening the season with a loss to FCS school North Dakota State at

home.

It didn’t get much better after that, with three more losses

over the next five games, leaving the Wildcats not only out of the

BCS bowl picture but in danger of missing the postseason

altogether.

Then something clicked.

Kicking its offense into another, high-scoring gear, Kansas

State (7-5) reeled off five wins in its final six games to earn a

spot in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan on Saturday

night.

”They learned a little bit about how to practice, how to

prepare,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. ”It’s something

that they probably took for granted at the outside of the season. I

think they finally said, `Hey, let’s do it the right way.”’

Michigan (7-5) finished with the same record as the Wildcats but

headed in the wrong direction as the season progressed.

The Wolverines opened with five straight victories, including a

win over Notre Dame in their second game.

Michigan stumbled to the finish, though, losing five of its

final seven.

Other than a 29-6 loss to Michigan State, the Wolverines were in

every game but just couldn’t finish things off.

”No question, this football team is 11 points away from being

11-1,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. ”We haven’t finished games

and executed the way we needed to at the end of the games.”

Here are five things to watch for in the Buffalo Wings Bowl:

MICHIGAN’S QB: The Wolverines were hit with a huge blow when

quarterback Devin Gardner hurt his toe in their regular-season

finale against Ohio State. Gardner, who’s thrown for over 4,000

yards and 32 touchdowns the past two seasons, aggravated the injury

last week and is out for the bowl game, leaving Michigan in the

hands of freshman Shane Morris. He attempted nine passes in three

games this season and played just four games as a high school

senior because of mononucleosis.

K-STATE’S TWO QBs: Instead of trying to replace Heisman Trophy

finalist Collin Klein with one quarterback, Snyder has gone with a

two-headed approach. Junior Jake Waters is the thrower, accounting

for 2,198 yards and 15 touchdowns passing. Sophomore Daniel Sams is

the runner, rushing for 784 yards and 11 TDs. Snyder doesn’t

typically like to use two quarterbacks, but he believes Waters and

Sams together give the Wildcats the best chance to win.

STOPPING MUELLER: With a freshman starting his first game at

quarterback, Michigan will want to keep Kansas State from knocking

Morris around and possibly rattling him early. Doing that will

start with slowing down Wildcats defensive end Ryan Mueller. The

6-foot-2, 245-pound junior was a walk-on in 2010 who developed into

one of the nation’s most disruptive defensive linemen. Mueller

finished the season sixth nationally with 11 sacks and was seventh

with 18.5 tackles for loss.

BOWL WOES: Snyder orchestrated one of college football’s biggest

turnarounds his first stint in the Little Apple and got the

Wildcats back on track when he came out of retirement in 2009. One

thing he hasn’t been able to do, at least recently, is win bowl

games. Kansas State enters the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on a

five-game postseason losing streak that includes a 35-17 loss to

Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl a year ago in the desert. The Wildcats

haven’t won a bowl game since scoring in the final 90 seconds to

beat Arizona State in the 2002 Holiday Bowl.

GO-TO GALLON: Fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon has become

Michigan’s go-to receiver. After catching 49 passes last season,

Gallon had 80 receptions this year, which is 33 more than anyone

else on the team. He has 1,284 yards receiving and nine touchdowns

and accounted for the Wolverines’ four longest plays from

scrimmage, including an 84-yard catch from Gardner against Ohio

State.