Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl 2013: Kansas State vs. Michigan Complete Game Preview

Erin SorensenContributor IDecember 8, 2013

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl 2013: Kansas State vs. Michigan Complete Game Preview

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    Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

    The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl hits a milestone this year.

    It is the 25th year of the bowl's existence.

    To celebrate, Kansas State and Michigan will face off on Dec. 28.

    Both the Wildcats and Wolverines have had plenty of ups and downs this season. That's what makes this matchup interesting.

    Kansas State is out for redemption. The team has lost five straight bowl games dating back to 2002.

    Michigan, on the other hand, is looking to bounce back after losing to South Carolina in last year's bowl matchup.

    Last year's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl was won by Michigan State, 17-16, over TCU. If Michigan is able to secure the win, the Big Ten will hold the victory over the Big 12 for another year.

    Who will ultimately walk away with the big win?

     

    Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

    When: Saturday, Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET

    Watch: ESPN

    Tickets: Tickets available here.

Kansas State's Keys to Victory

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    1. Pressure on Gardner

    The second half of Michigan's season was less turnover-prone than the first.

    However, that doesn't mean the opportunity for mistakes isn't there.

    While Gardner went from 10 interceptions in his first six games to only one in his final six, Michigan had to really scale back the offense to make that possible.

    That ultimately resulted in less-than-ideal on-field success.

    Additionally, Gardner still looked gun-shy in the second half of the season. It seemed possible that the quarterback was nervous about throwing more picks.

    Kansas State's defense needs to take advantage of this. If Gardner is nervous, putting pressure on him will force turnovers.

    It's difficult for a team to win with too many turnovers, so the more Kansas State can force Gardner to make mistakes, the better off the Wildcats will be.

     

    2. Pressure on Offensive Line

    This goes hand-in-hand with putting pressure on Gardner. However, it's important.

    Michigan's offensive line has struggled all season. Due to this, Gardner has had a tough time staying upright.

    Putting as much pressure as possible on the offensive line will likely have the unit breaking down quickly.

    Once tired, it will be easy to get to Gardner and then put the pressure on him. Basically, Kansas State needs to be focused on wearing out the Michigan offensive line.

    Based on the regular season, that should be too difficult to manage.

     

    3. Throw the Ball

    Michigan's secondary hasn't exactly been stellar in 2013.

    In fact, Iowa's 55-yard touchdown pass in the second half versus Michigan is really all Kansas State needs to see.

    More often than not, Josh Furman and Delonte Hollowell found themselves burned in the passing game.

    Against Nebraska, Michigan's secondary allowed two big touchdowns.

    At 4th-and-2 at the 31-yard line, Nebraska was trailing 13-10. The Cornhuskers opted against the field goal and went for the first down. Michigan's secondary was unable to defend the pass, which ultimately led to Nebraska scoring.

    There is a lot of youth at the safety position and cornerback position, which is something Kansas State can focus in on.

    Putting the ball in the air is guaranteed to bring out Michigan's struggles.

Michigan's Keys to Victory

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    1. Pass the Ball

    Michigan's running game isn't much to talk about.

    Due to this, quarterback Devin Gardner will likely be putting the ball in the air. That's the right thing to do, too.

    In 2013, Gardner has passed for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns. His passing abilities were also notable in the loss to Ohio State.

    Kansas State's secondary isn't weak, but it's an area that Michigan can target.

    If Gardner can stay confident, throwing the ball should be the primary game plan.

    Trying to run the ball won't be nearly as successful with the struggles the Wolverines have had with its offensive line.

    Kansas State may expect Gardner to pass, but when executed correctly, it's tough to defend even when expected.

     

    2. Defend the Pass

    Kansas State will likely put the ball in the air.

    This is mostly due to the struggles Michigan has had with its secondary.

    With that said, the Michigan safeties and cornerbacks need to be prepared to step up.

    Junior wide receiver Tyler Lockett is going to be a big factor for Kansas State. He has been one of the hottest receivers in the Big 12 and the nation.

    Against Oklahoma alone, Lockett caught 12 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns.

    What's even more impressive is that Lockett was impressive despite missing two games with a hamstring injury this season.

    What that means for Michigan is that Kansas State will likely put the ball in the air. If the Wildcats know Michigan has struggled with the secondary, it will be a focus.

     

    3. Limit John Hubert

    Kansas State is truly at its best when running back Jon Hubert is involved.

    In fact, Hubert was a big factor in Kansas State's 49-26 victory over Texas Tech. In that game alone, Hubert ran for a season-high of 157 yards.

    "I’m just running with the mentality to give it all I’ve got," Hubert told Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal.

    If that's Hubert's mentality, Michigan needs to be ready to limit the senior.

    Against Kansas, Hubert was called upon a career-high 30 times. It was his 11th career game over 100 yards. It was his fourth this season.

    Needless to say, Michigan can expect to see the ball in Hubert's hands whenever possible.

    The Wolverines defense will have to be ready.

Players to Watch from Kansas State

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    1. Daniel Sams (Soph., QB)

    It was a bit bizarre that Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams didn't see much playing time at quarterback against Kansas.

    The extent of his play was one series in the first half. He rushed for negative yardage on two carries.

    However, after the game, head coach Bill Snyder said he needed to play Sams more.

    “We needed to play Daniel,” Snyder told Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star. “We just didn’t play him enough. That’s my mistake.”

    With that said, Sams is expected to see plenty of more time in the bowl game. That's good for the Wildcats, too.

    Sams is an athletic quarterback who brings a lot to the table. He will challenge the Michigan defense.

    There is little doubt that the Wolverines won't be keeping an eye on him.

     

    2. Ryan Mueller (Jr., DE)

    It's hard to believe that defensive end Ryan Mueller was a walk-on prior to the 2010 season.

    Since then, he has been nothing short of impressive for the Wildcats.

    By the end of his junior season, Mueller had recorded 61 tackles and 11.5 sacks for Kansas State.

    With those numbers, his name was quickly thrown into conference and national honor conversations.

    However, Mueller is a humble player. He credits his success to his team, as he told the Kansas City Star.

    They are team awards. It is a credit to all the guys who play with me. I would love to win every defensive award there is. That means my defense helped me in my success here. It is a credit to all the guys who helped me play.

    Needless to say, Mueller will be out to get Gardner.

     

    For the full roster, click here.

Players to Watch for Michigan

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    1. Devin Gardner (Jr., QB)

    Gardner has been a major factor in Michigan's seven wins. He will also be a major factor as the Wolverines face Kansas State.

    The 2013 season was one of growing for the junior. Fans wanted more wins from Gardner, but what he ultimately provided was pretty good.

    In fact, Gardner showed a lot of growth.

    In the first half of the season, Gardner was interception-prone. He threw a grand total of 10 interceptions in his first six games as the starter.

    However, in the final six games, Gardner only threw one.

    By the end of the regular season, he had the second-best single-season passing numbers in Michigan history with 2,960 yards. He had a 60 percent completion rate to boot.

    Gardner has improved greatly, and he'll be a big asset to Michigan against Kansas State's defense.

     

    2. Devin Funchess (Soph., TE)

    Tight end Devin Funchess made a name for himself after Michigan faced Minnesota.

    During that game, Funchess had seven catches for 151 yards.

    From that point forward, he was a vital part of the Michigan offense. 

    With the exception of the Iowa matchup, Funchess had no less than four receptions in seven of his team's final eight games.

    The 6'5", 228-pound tight end is a tight end only by name. He is more of a split receiver who is able to make big plays when needed.

    He's been a big bright spot for Michigan in 2013. He'll likely be relied on heavily against Kansas State.

     

    For the full roster, click here.

What They Are Saying

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    Kansas State Head Coach Bill Snyder

    On the significance of winning the bowl game:

    This is really important for them because they, in their tenure here, have not been successful in the last game of the season or the bowl games that they have participated in. I think it really is significant to them.

     

    Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller

    On how badly he wants to end Kansas State's losing streak in bowl games: "Oh gosh, you have no idea. I am so tired of it."

    On how the thought of a bowl victory motivated him to work hard:

    I’m tired of that after-the-game feeling of we can’t make coach happy at the end of the season. This next bowl game is going to lead to another opportunity. Hopefully after the game we can celebrate a victory. I want to end the season on a positive note and feel what that locker room feels like versus losing a bowl game and the other team celebrating and pouring Gatorade on their coach and wearing those championship hats. I want to pour Gatorade on Coach Snyder. It would be great.

     

    Kansas State LB Jonathan Truman

    On how badly team needs the bowl game win: "Nobody on our team has won a bowl game, with the exception of the coaches. We need it. We want it really bad."

     

    Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke

    On whether or not Gardner will be back in 2014: "He'll be back."

    On whether or not he's talked with Gardner about returning: "No. But he'll come back."

    On how and when he evaluates his staff: "You always do it, before the bowl game, after the bowl game."

    On why fans should be encouraged by a 7-5 regular season: "Because of the youth that has contributed and how they have progressed through the year."

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all Kansas State quotes were obtained via Robinett of the Kansas City Star. All Michigan quotes were obtained via Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com and Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.

Prediction

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Kansas State was invited to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl after finishing the regular season with a 7-5 record.

    As for Michigan, the team also finished 7-5.

    Many had expected the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to select Nebraska. However, nothing is official with bowl matchups until news is released.

    When the news was out, it was the Wildcats and Wolverines headed to Arizona to face off.

    Kansas State's head coach Bill Snyder has a 6-8 all-time bowl record. Michigan's head coach Brady Hoke has a 2-2 all-time bowl record.

    The last year without a bowl for both teams was 2009.

    As for 2013, both head into the matchup after plenty of ups and downs.

    Kansas State kicked off the 2013 regular season with a loss to North Dakota State. That could have been the writing on the wall for the team.

    Instead, the group rallied to a 7-5 finish. It wasn't always pretty, but the end-of-the-season momentum was exactly what the Wildcats needed.

    As for Michigan, the group had a chance to be 8-4. However, a failed two-point conversion to win against Ohio State left the Wolverines at 7-4.

    Michigan will turn to the fact that while the team lost five games, four of them were by four points or less.

    However, Kansas State seems the likely victor in this matchup.

    It won't be easy either way. It will also likely be close.

    Snyder will find a way to bring home the win.

     

    Prediction: Kansas State 27, Michigan 21