Michigan-Kansas St. Preview

It’s been more than a decade since Bill Snyder and Kansas State

won a bowl game, a drought the coach of the otherwise highly

successful program finds a bit puzzling.

The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl might finally give the Wildcats

another taste of postseason success.

After winning five of its final six games, Kansas State will

feel confident heading to Tempe for this Saturday matchup with a

Michigan team that struggled down the stretch and won’t have its

starting quarterback.

Snyder took over a desolate Wildcats program in 1989 and turned

it into a perennial Big 12 powerhouse before retiring in 2005, then

returned in 2009 and led Kansas State (7-5) to the Cotton Bowl in

2011 and the Fiesta Bowl last season after winning his second

conference title.

But stepping outside the Big 12 around the holidays hasn’t gone

well for the Wildcats. They’ve lost all five postseason games since

beating Arizona State in the 2002 Holiday Bowl.

“It is obvious that one of my many failings is that I do not

have the answer to that,” the 74-year-old Snyder said. “It could be

a multitude of things, and perhaps it is, or maybe it something

simple that I am overlooking. … The bottom line is I really do

not know.”

Kansas State appeared to be headed for another Holiday Bowl

trip, but got bumped up a spot to Tempe thanks to conference foes

Baylor and Oklahoma both winding up in the BCS.

The Wildcats didn’t seem like they’d be headed anywhere for the

holidays after a 2-4 start that included a season-opening loss to

FCS power North Dakota State, but instead turned it around over the

season’s final six weeks. Kansas State forced 18 turnovers in its

5-1 stretch run, losing only to the surging Sooners on Nov. 23.

A bowl victory, however, is what the Wildcats are really hungry

for.

“Nobody on our team has won a bowl game, with the exception of

the coaches,” junior linebacker Jonathan Truman said. “We need it.

We want it really bad.”

Michigan started 5-0 but nearly lost to Akron and UConn, perhaps

an indication of things to come – like the team’s four losses by

four points or fewer.

Despite dropping four of five to finish the season, Michigan

(7-5) was still attractive to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The

former Insight Bowl picked the Wolverines ahead of 8-4 Nebraska,

which had two more Big Ten wins.

Michigan heads into its first meeting with Kansas State off its

most impressive effort of the season, but the star of its 42-41

loss to Ohio State won’t be around to face the Wildcats. Devin

Gardner threw for 451 yards and four touchdowns in nearly knocking

the Buckeyes out of the national championship picture Nov. 30, but

he suffered what was deemed a turf toe injury and wasn’t practicing

leading up to this game.

It was reported that Gardner actually broke his foot on the

Wolverines’ second drive of the third quarter but continued to

play. Coach Brady Hoke ruled out Gardner on Thursday, leaving it up

to freshman Shane Morris to make his first career start.

”Obviously, we recruited him at Michigan to be the quarterback

at Michigan,” Hoke said. ”This is a great opportunity. We have a

lot of faith in how he goes about his business getting ready to

play.”

Morris played in three games this season, attempting nine

passes. The big-armed left-hander sat out most of his senior season

in high school because of mononucleosis.

”Everything has been great with him,” Michigan receiver Jeremy

Gallon said. ”He’s been connecting with the receivers, the running

backs, building a stronger chemistry with the O-line. There’s

nothing new about him. I feel like he’s been here forever.”

Michigan certainly needs to move the ball through the air

because its ground game has been a disaster. The Wolverines average

3.2 yards per carry, 112th in the nation and their worst mark since

1999.

This game matches two of the country’s best receivers in Kansas

State’s Tyler Lockett (71 catches, 1,146 yards, eight TDs) and

Gallon (80, 1,284, nine), and also two of the best defensive

players. Wolverines cornerback Blake Countess will shadow Lockett

after tying for fourth in the nation with six interceptions, while

Wildcats defensive end Ryan Mueller had 11 1/2 sacks and a Big

12-best 18 1/2 tackles for loss.

While the Wolverines are down to their backup QB, the Wildcats

are comfortable with two – even if it’s not Snyder’s preferred

approach. Junior Jake Waters averaged 9.43 yards per pass attempt –

seventh in the nation – while sophomore Daniel Sams ran for 784

yards and 11 TDs.

“I’ve never been a fan of having two guys at that position that

play equally,” Snyder said. “But both of them work diligently at

it. Both of them are very deserving of having the opportunity to

play.”

Michigan, which has lost six of its last eight bowls, will be

making its first appearance in the Arizona bowl’s 25th game. Kansas

State beat Wyoming at the then-Copper Bowl in 1993 and lost to

Syracuse at the then-Insight.com Bowl in 2001.