Kansas State and Michigan have never played football, so the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl will be a new experience for everyone involved.
Still, the weeks leading up to the Dec. 28 game haven’t felt new for the Wildcats. If anything, they have felt routine.
Things are different from the past two seasons, when K-State spent bowl practices adjusting to their opponents’ style. Arkansas had the power and swagger found only in the Southeastern Conference. Oregon had unrivaled speed and a future NFL coach. Good luck finding that combination on a regular basis.
This season, the Wildcats aren’t radically changing their bowl practice regimen. They are preparing for the postseason the way they would a conference game. Why? They think the Wolverines resemble many of the teams they faced in the regular season.
“The Big 12 has prepared us for this bowl game,” K-State senior linebacker Tre Walker said. “In the Big 12, we have seen a lot of different teams — running backs at Texas and a great tight end at Texas Tech. The Big 12 will have us ready.”
Added receiver Curry Sexton: “When we found out we were playing Michigan, it was kind of ‘go time.’ ”
That doesn’t mean K-State is expecting an easy game. Far from it.
Ask K-State coach Bill Snyder to describe the challenges that come with facing Michigan and he suggests there are too many to list.
“We don’t have enough time to address that,” Snyder said. “They are a very physical football team. They are a team that will beat you with fundamentals and execution and toughness. They are moving in the direction that they are wanting to move in, and I think that is very, very positive.”
At the moment, though, the Wolverines have the look of a familiar opponent.
Mobile quarterback Devin Gardner threw for 2,960 yards and rushed for 483 yards this season while keeping defenses guessing with zone reads, long throws and option plays. Top receiver Jeremy Gallon has topped 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns. And running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green are both big-play threats.
Sounds a lot like Texas, TCU or Oklahoma.
A turf-toe injury suffered by Gardner in the final game of the regular season might force Michigan to use freshman backup Shane Morris for portions of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Preparing for multiple quarterbacks is the new norm in the Big 12.
Tight end Devin Funchess is capable of winning the line of scrimmage and burning defenses in the passing game out of the slot.
K-State contained the nation’s top tight end, Jace Amaro, when it defeated Texas Tech.
The Wildcats further blur conference lines by the way they play. They huddle on offense, play sound on defense and refuse to beat themselves, similar to the approach Big Ten teams have used for years.
The only standout qualities about Michigan in this matchup: Its secondary has made 17 interceptions, led by Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, and its offensive line has NFL skill behind senior left tackle Taylor Lewan.
K-State doesn’t see that combination every week.
“I respect the way they do things. They are a class-act program,” K-State linebacker Blake Slaughter said. “From a defensive standpoint, you are looking at specific players. (Lewan) is a really good player. Gallon, he is a good player, too.
“Their ability to execute is what really sets them apart from other offenses. It seems like they execute their schemes well and execute their blocks. They are not going to beat themselves. That is something we need to be aware of.”
More than a week remains before K-State and Michigan meet at Sun Devil Stadium. The Wildcats will spend that time practicing the way they normally do.
“Talented quarterback, talented offensive line. Football is football,” defensive end Ryan Mueller said. “They are tough; we are tough. It is going to be a good dogfight.”