Unlikely bowl matchup could yield wild game between Wolverines, Wildcats
Suffice to say, Kansas State and Michigan probably didn’t expect to meet in the same bowl game this season.
Michigan started the season with aspirations of winning the Big Ten Legends division with budding star Devin Gardner at quarterback. The Wolverines’ quarterback dazzled with his play at times, but he could also be infuriating with turnovers. Michigan fell out of Big Ten contention by November, finishing 3-5 in the league.
Meanwhile, Kansas State entered 2013 in a rebuilding year after Collin Klein led the Wildcats to the Big 12 title last year. A season-opening loss to North Dakota State appeared to signal a long year for the Wildcats. By midseason, Kansas State became one of the toughest outs in the Big 12, winning five of its last six.
So as Kansas State arrives at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl as a major victory, Michigan arrives after a let down of a season.
The next question is if those opposing emotions play a role in Tempe.
Kansas State vs. Michigan
Kickoff: Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Kansas State by 3.5
Three Things to Watch
Ryan Mueller vs. Taylor Lewan
The meeting of Kansas State star defensive end Mueller and Michigan first-round prospect at left tackle in Lewan may be the most important matchup of the game. Mueller, a former walk-on, emerged this season with 11.5 sacks and six pass deflections. He’ll try to pressure Michigan quarterback Shane Morris into mistakes, but he’ll have to go through the 6-8, 315-pound Lewan to do it.
If Michigan State’s Jeremy Gallon and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett are getting the ball, this game could turn into a shootout. Lockett finished with 71 catches for 1,146 yards and eight touchdowns despite missing two games this season. He has two 200-yard receiving games this season, neither against teams to pad stats (he did it against Texas and Oklahoma). Gallon has a 369-yard game under his belt this season against Indiana. Beyond Gallon, Michigan has plenty of talent on offense, including tight end Devin Funchess, provided Morris can get them the ball. Kansas State’s defense, though, will get a boost from the return of veteran safety Ty Zimmerman, who missed the last two games with an apparent ankle injury.
Kansas State’s quarterback rotation
Kansas State has been the rare team to make a two-man rotation at quarterback work. Jake Waters is the more complete quarterback, especially as a passer, but Daniel Sams has been difficult to stop all season with 784 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns to go with 452 passing yards. Sams only played one series in the finale against Kansas, a development coach Bill Snyder said was mistake.
Key Player: Shane Morris, Michigan
Devin Gardner suffered a foot injury in Michigan’s 42-41 loss to Ohio State, and the junior will sit out the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Kansas State. Gardner’s play was inconsistent at times in 2013, but he was the Wolverines’ best option under center and will be missed against the Wildcats. Morris will take Gardner’s place in the lineup, and the true freshman has thrown just nine passes this year. Michigan’s offense will change with Morris under center, but the freshman needs more help from the supporting cast. Morris doesn’t have to win this game on his own. But with little margin for error, any mistake Morris makes will be magnified.
The first meeting between Kansas State and Michigan could be one of the more unpredictable bowl games of 2013-14, especially if both teams are in top form. Michigan finally played to its potential on offense and gave Ohio State all it could handle in the last week of the regular season. Kansas State can match that kind of production if John Hubert is steadily moving the chains and Tyler Lockett hits the big play. But there’s a reason both teams are playing in Dec. 28 bowl game.
Prediction: Kansas State 31, Michigan 24