Kansas State Wildcats (7-5) vs. Michigan Wolverines (7-5)
Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET, Tempe, Ariz.(ESPN)
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
The Wildcats were left for dead. KSU sat at 2-4 including a loss to FCS power North Dakota State and 2012 breakout star Collin Klein was no longer in the quarterbacks meeting room. Time to start thinking about 2014, right?
Bill Snyder and company didn’t get the message. Instead, they reeled off wins in five of their last six Big 12 games to finish 7-5 and earn a berth in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. After sputtering early, the Wildcats’ two-quarterback system with Daniel Sams and Jake Waters worked seamlessly during the final half of the season, helping K-State average 36.7 points per game in its final six games. KSU’s 6.54 yards per play during that span led the Big 12, even better than the headline-making crew from Baylor.
Defensive end Ryan Mueller led the way for the K-State defense, terrorizing Big 12 quarterbacks and running backs in route to 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The Wildcats’ fundamentally sound defense looked similar to the squad that earned a Fiesta Bowl berth a year ago, leading the Big 12 with 4.73 yards per play allowed in the final six-game stretch.
Now Michigan, who lost four of its last five games, awaits and the Wildcats return to Arizona for the second straight year in a bowl matchup will be a battle of two teams who finished the season on opposite sides of the spectrum. -- Brandon Chatmon
MICHIGAN WOLVERINES BREAKDOWN
The Wolverines had an up-and-down season and eventually finished 7-5. While they were just two or three plays away from being 9-3, they were also -- quite realistically -- two or three plays away from being 5-7.
Early on, Michigan almost dropped games to Akron and Connecticut, while struggling to find any kind of an offensive identity, despite returning key playmakers. Quarterback Devin Gardner took a beating from opposing defenses through the middle of the season (enduring 17 sacks in three games) and while he found a way to make it to the Ohio State game in one piece, he ended the year far from 100 percent.
But after 10 games, the Michigan coaching staff finally found its best offensive line combination and when they did -- and when that group really worked together -- the Wolverines found a run game and managed to give Gardner enough time in the pocket for the plays to develop down field.
Defensively, it was a very different feel all season. The Wolverine defense employed a bend-but-don’t-break mentality and were a bright point for a sputtering team at many times. But near the end of the season, it gave up huge plays and went through major breakdowns in decisive games to end the year with Iowa and Ohio State. -- Chantel Jennings