Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten Bowl Preview - Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

TEAMS: Michigan (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) vs. Kansas State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12)

TIME: December 28th, 10:15 p.m. EST

 TV: ESPN

This year’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl between Michigan and Kansas State pits two very different programs against each other. Michigan is the winningest program in all of college football and Kansas State, despite being a pretty successful program under longtime head coach Bill Snyder, has a history that pales in comparison to Michigan’s. Despite these differences, both teams will look to end 2013 on a high note when they square off in Tempe.

The Wolverines have had a very odd season. They started out with a 5-0 record before suffering their first loss to Penn State, which was a four-overtime thriller and a game that Michigan had numerous opportunities to win. Other than a blowout loss at the hands of Michigan State, all of Michigan’s losses this season have come by a margin of four points or less. Michigan has a talented roster, but their inability to finish off some teams and a lack of toughness have doomed Brady Hoke’s team all season long.

Offensively, the Wolverines will be without starting quarterback Devin Gardner for this game after Gardner broke his foot in Michigan’s regular-season finale against Ohio State. The junior was able to play through the pain during the game versus the Buckeyes, but he won’t be able to go for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. So Michigan fans will get a glimpse into the future as true freshman Shane Morris will get his first collegiate start.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan has the fourth highest scoring offense in the Big Ten at 33.8 points per game, so it’ll be interesting to see how the offense fares with Morris under center. He’ll have some great talent around him to help, like wide receiver Jeremy Gallon (1,284 rec. yards, 9 TD’s) and tight end Devin Funchess (727 rec. yards, 6 TD’s). One big thing to watch in this game is Michigan’s running game. At times this season, the Wolverines have struggled mightily to run the ball and with a true freshman like Morris getting the start, they’ll need to have some success in the run game in order to have a chance to win.

On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan has had its fair share of troubles this season. It has given up 26.5 points per game this season, including giving up 40-plus points in three games. Like their offense, the Wolverines defense has some very talented players. Defensive lineman Frank Clark (12.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks), linebacker James Ross III (81 tackles) and cornerback Blake Countess (6 interceptions) are a few of Michigan’s defensive playmakers. This is a unit that has given up a lot of big plays but it’s a unit that has the ability to make some big plays, too.

Coming off one of the best seasons in program history, the Kansas State Wildcats didn’t start 2013 in a particularly strong fashion. They lost their opener at home against FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, 24-21. Kansas State would go on to compile a 7-5 record, but all of their conference losses were to quality teams and they didn’t lose by more than 10 points all season.

Junior college transfer Jake Waters was given the keys to Bill Snyder’s offense in his first season in Manhattan. Waters has done a nice job in his first year playing at the FBS level, as he has thrown for close to 2,200 yards and 15 touchdowns (he also has 6 rush TD’s). Waters has also had some great skill position players around him, such as running backs John Hubert and Daniel Sams (1,752 rush yards, 20 TD’s combined), and wide receiver Tyler Lockett (1,146 rec. yards, 8 TD’s).

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Like Michigan’s defense, Kansas State’s defense has struggled at times, but has also had some bright spots. For the most part this year, this defense did enough to keep the team in the game and gave the offense a chance. Junior defensive end Ryan Mueller is the star of the Kansas State defense with his 18.5 tackles for loss and his 11.5 sacks. Senior linebacker Blake Slaughter has registered over 100 tackles on the season, while the secondary features three players (Ty Zimmerman, Dorrian Roberts and Dante Barnett) who have three interceptions each.

Prediction

Both teams are battle-tested and have played in a lot of close games this season. The play of the quarterbacks will determine the outcome of this contest. Devin Gardner’s injury is bad timing for Michigan and it forces Brady Hoke to throw Shane Morris right into the fire. But if Morris can avoid making those typical freshman mistakes, then Michigan will have a chance. The Kansas State football program hasn’t won a bowl game since 2002, so they will probably be very motivated to win this game, especially against a brand name like Michigan.

Score: Michigan 20 Kansas State 28

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Tags: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Football Kansas State Wildcats Michigan Wolverines

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