By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
A tale of two seasons will end in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Kansas State, which overcame a 2-4 start to earn its bowl bid with a 7-5 record, will take on Michigan. The Wolverines stumbled to a 7-5 finish after starting 5-0.
The game also promises variety at quarterback. The Wildcats have made a two-player system work as starter Jake Waters is an accomplished passer while Daniel Sams is a dangerous running threat. Michigan, meanwhile, will be without starter Devin Gardner.
Gardner, a junior who amassed more than 3,000 yards of offense and threw for 21 touchdowns this season, suffered a broken bone in his left foot in the season finale. Freshman Shane Morris, a freshman who completed five of nine passes for 65 yards this season, will be the starter.
"We tried to see if Devin (Gardner) could go and it just wasn't possible," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Thursday.
"I would imagine there may be some differences between (Gardner) and (Morris) but I think both of them prepare in virtually the same offense, which is extremely complex," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "If you prepare for their offense, you're virtually preparing for everything. They can do an awful lot of things.
"Regardless of who the quarterback is, our preparation has been more along the lines of the offense in its entirety. Gardner is a tremendously talented young guy, but there is a lot of talent on that offense that you have to prepare for, it's not just the quarterback."
The Wildcats and the Wolverines are meeting for the first time and K-State hopes to win its first bowl game since 2002.
K-State's offense has been productive over the second half of the season thanks to the Waters-Sams combination. Waters, a junior-college transfer, has energized the passing game with junior receiver Tyler Lockett (71 receptions) benefitting. Sams has 784 rushing yards, tops among Big 12 quarterbacks, and 11 touchdowns this season.
"Both of them are good, young guys, both of them have played well," Snyder said of his two quarterbacks. "They've grown immensely through the course of season. We had some difficulty early in the season with just their growth.
"They work well together, they care about each other and they help each other."
No matter who is at quarterback for Michigan, he'll have to be aware of Wildcats' defensive end Ryan Mueller. The junior led the Big 12 with 18.5 tackles for loss.
Buffalo Wild Wings
Kansas State vs. Michigan
Need to know: 9:15 p.m. CT, Saturday, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz., ESPN.
Team records: Kansas State 7-5 overall, 5-4 in Big 12; Michigan 7-5 overall, 3-5 in Big Ten Legends Division.
Scouting Michigan: Junior quarterback Devin Gardner threw for 451 yards and four touchdowns plus ran for another score as the Wolverines nearly upset Ohio State in the season finale. Gardner continued to play despite breaking a bone in his foot earlier in the second half. He won't play in the bowl game. Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon is the top target in the passing game. He has 80 receptions for 1,284 yards and nine touchdowns. Michigan's run game produced just 130 yards per game with Fitzgerald Toussaint leading the way with 646 yards rushing. The Wolverines will be without senior kicker Brendan Gibbons, who did not make the trip because of family reasons.
Scouting Kansas State: The Wildcats have thrived with a two quarterback system. Junior Jake Waters is the starter and he averages 9.43 yards per pass attempt – which ranks seventh in the nation. Sophomore Daniel Sams is the running option; he has 784 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Junior Tyler Lockett has developed into a dangerous receiver. He has 71 receptions for 1,146 yards and eight touchdowns. Over the last six games, K-State has averaged nearly 37 points per game and 6.5 yards per play. Junior defensive end Ryan Mueller keys a defense that has steadily improved throughout the season.
Short yardage: Four of Michigan's five losses came by a total of 11 points. Kansas State's five losses were by 10 or fewer points. … The Wildcats started 2-4 while the Wolverines won their first five games. … Kansas State is 1-1 all-time in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (formerly the Copper and Insight.com bowls). … K-State has played 17 bowl games and 15 have come under coach Bill Snyder. … The Wildcats' last victory in a bowl game came in the 2002 Holiday Bowl. … Michigan has lost six of its last eight bowls. … This will be just the seventh time that the Wolverines have played a bowl game in December and it's Michigan's first trip to Arizona since winning the 1986 Fiesta Bowl.