Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl breakdown: Michigan vs. Kansas State
Michigan (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5)
Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: Michigan and Kansas State enter the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl riding very different emotions. The Wildcats are happy to go bowling after opening the season 2-4, a stretch that included a 24-21 loss to FCS North Dakota State on Aug. 30. After hitting the lighter part of their Big 12 schedule, however, the Wildcats rattled off four in a row and finished the season winning five of their last six. Michigan started 5-0, and despite squeaking by in some of those victories -- particularly a 28-24 win over Akron and a 24-21 win at Connecticut -- it entered Big Ten play with realistic conference title aspirations. But Wolverines' early luck ran out, and Big Blue went 2-5 to close out the campaign. Kansas State hopes to continue its positive momentum, while Michigan likely wants to take out some of its frustration.
• Keep an eye on: Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller, who could be poised for a big day against a porous Michigan offensive line. Mueller's 11.5 sacks are tied for sixth nationally, and he'll face a Wolverines' offense that allows 2.92 sacks per game, 108th in the country. That could be amplified by Michigan's uncertainty under center: Turnover-prone Devin Gardner has been hampered by turf toe, meaning true freshman Shane Morris could make his first career start. Wildcats wide receiver Tyler Lockett, the Big 12's leader in all-purpose yards, could also be primed for a standout performance, though he is likely to see plenty of second-team All-Big Ten cornerback Blake Countess.
• Did you know: Despite a lengthy football history that includes more than 2,400 combined games, Michigan and Kansas State have never played each other. Wildcats coach Bill Snyder does have some experience against the Wolverines from his days as an assistant at Iowa (1979-88).
• Final analysis: Kansas State co-offensive coordinators Dana Dimel and Del Miller must be salivating watching tape of Michigan's 42-41 loss to Ohio State on Nov. 30. The Buckeyes dominated the Wolverines in the trenches, especially on runs up the middle. That should mean a heavy dose of Daniel Sims, the better runner in the Wildcats' dual-quarterback system, as well as a significant workload for running back John Hubert, who averages 5.3 yards per carry. Michigan likely regained some confidence following its offense's performance against Ohio State, but with Gardner questionable, it may not be enough. Mueller and company do enough to pull out the win.
• The pick: Kansas State 27, Michigan 21