Game Time: 8:15 PM Mountain/10:15 PM Eastern | Wolverines vs Wildcats coverage
Television: Who else? ESPN
Opponent Blog: Bring On The Cats
Series History: First meeting!
Michigan's Bowl Record: 20-22 All-time
Kansas State Bowl Record: 6-10 All-time
Vegas Says: Michigan +3.5
Weather Forecast: It's the Arizona desert, so, we'll assume warm and not snowing like the whole Midwest this time of year.
Obligatory BWW Sauce Joke: Kansas State is like the Medium wing sauce. Comfortable, slow burn that can sneak up on you if you overdo it, and classically plain flavor. Just like Bill Snyder's wardrobe. Michigan, meanwhile: after the Notre Dame win, they were Hot -- exhilarating sensation and delicious satisfaction. Mid-season, they were Blazin' Sauce, and not in a good way. The description on the sauce bottle reads, "keep away from your eyes, pets, children," and the same could be said of the Michigan offense. Now, they're Wild Sauce -- classic program, big presence, blisterin' performance given the right preparation and execution. This is what Michigan fans want to see, lest the coaches turn into a bunch of Caribbean Jerks and blow this game.
Michigan's season goals were a fast-shifting thing this season. It went from (a) compete for conference title to (b) get to 10 wins, and then finally (c) just win a dang bowl game. Any bowl game will do. The path to that last remaining goal goes through Tempe, Arizona, and Bill Snyder's Kansas State team. Michigan's season hinges on Brady Hoke not getting out-coached by one of college football's legends.
Snyder has had two separate tenures at Kansas State. He took the job in 1988 when K-State was the worst in the land, and turned it into a perennial Big 12 power.
Two years ago, it was thought that the Wildcats were to be Michigan's Sugar Bowl opponent because of Kollin Klein's awesome Heisman finalist season. It is because of Snyder coming back as coach that they have never fallen back to the depths of irrelevance they once were over two decades ago. K-State fans believe in him and his purple windbreaker, and Michigan has to believe that the Wildcats will be ready to go come December 28th. Kansas State has nowhere near the number of wins, bowl appearances, or conference titles Michigan has, but since Snyder got there, he has had six 11-win seasons and been very, very close to playing for a national title. Twice.
They run an option run attack similar to Ohio State or Auburn, have solid defensive backs, and can rush the quarterback. Note that those are three things Michigan struggled to stop in 2013. Devin Gardner was full-on broken by the end of the Ohio State game, and only the Michigan coaches know how ready he'll be for a game in two and a half weeks. Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess have to carry the load, and at minimum, the running game has to serve the purpose of letting someone besides Gardner get hit at the line.
For more in-depth looks at K-State position-by-position, consult our storystream.
Bowl games are difficult to interpret, because it's a neutral site somewhere out west or in the state of Florida, against opponents Michigan rarely, if ever, sees. The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl used to be the Insight.com Bowl, and before that it was the Copper Bowl. Kansas State actually won the Copper Bowl against Wyoming 52-17 for the program's first bowl win, in 1993. That year Michigan played in one of the great Rose Bowl games of all time, beating the late Don James's terror of a Washington team, 38-31. Kansas State has fared well in the state of Arizona, going to bowls there six times under Snyder. Michigan's lone other trip to Arizona was the 1986 Fiesta Bowl, where they beat Tom Osborne and Nebraska in another classic game.
These two programs are evenly matched and were on similar paths a few years ago. Both have statements to make about what kind of progress they're making toward the expectations of fans and alumni. Michigan can head into the 2014 off season in stride, ready to climb atop the Big Ten again at last.
Postscript: For Michigan, this bowl game will be the final game for two loved members of its football family. Equipment Manager Jon Falk will retire after 40 years with the program. Frank Beckmann, the voice of Michigan football since he took over for Bob Ufer in 1981, will retire. Most of you reading this are my age or younger, and Beckmann is the only voice of the Wolverines we've ever known.