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.