As the nation’s 11th-ranked football team, Kansas State came as close as it possibly could to qualifying for a premier bowl game.
But the disappointment of missing out on a trip to the Peach Bowl, Cotton Bowl or Fiesta Bowl by a single spot in the final playoff rankings was quickly replaced with the excitement of accepting an invitation to the Big 12’s most prestigious traditional postseason destination — the Alamo Bowl.
K-State will face No. 14 UCLA at 5:45 p.m. on Jan. 2 in San Antonio (ESPN) in a game that figures to be one of the season’s top bowl matchups. Both teams won nine games and contended for conference championships.
“It is the most prestigious bowl from the Big 12 perspective,” K-State athletic director John Currie said during a bowl teleconference Sunday. “We certainly have outstanding partners, whether it was the Alamo Bowl or the Russell Athletic Bowl it was going to be a significant reward for our student-athletes.
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“This is a 65,000-seat climate-controlled venue that will have two very highly-ranked teams, both of whom were in the national spotlight this year and both of whom have tremendous players.”
K-State received an invitation to the Alamo Bowl as the Big 12’s top team to miss out on one of the six playoff-affiliated bowls. In past years, the Alamo Bowl has been played in December and picked middle-tier teams from the Big 12 and Pac-12.
This season, the bowl moved up the pecking order in both conferences and back on the calendar. It should receive spotlight treatment on a Friday night.
K-State has played in the bowl once before, but it will make a return under happier circumstances. The Wildcats’ last trip to San Antonio occurred in 1998 — a 37-34 loss to Purdue — when a single loss in the Big 12 championship game sent the Wildcats spiraling out of the national championship picture and the mix for a major bowl.
Coach Bill Snyder said he is looking forward to a return.
“We were well-received the previous time, and I think they do a wonderful job down there,” Snyder said. “They really care for the young people in our program. There are a lot of opportunities for them to experience new things.”
He is also excited about the prospect of coaching against UCLA’s Jim Mora.
“Having the opportunity to play against UCLA and a Jim Mora-coached football team is a great challenge for us,” Snyder said. “One that I’m sure our youngsters will be excited to get invested in.”
K-State last played UCLA in 2010, defeating the Bruins at home. They also played in 2009, losing a regular-season game at the Rose Bowl.
Snyder learned of K-State’s bowl destination and opponent at 3 p.m., and he was breaking down the Bruins’ tendencies two hours later.
“It’s a very challenging preparation for us,” Snyder said. “I have great admiration for Jim and what he’s done there. They’ve won, I think, 27 ballgames in the past three years. You look at the talent they have — (Brett) Hundley is a very efficient quarterback as he’s thrown for over 70 percent. He’s the leading passer, or close to it, in UCLA history.
“Their running back (Paul Perkins) is likewise, averaging 115 or 120 yards per ballgame, and over his career has been very successful. It’s a program that is moving in an extremely positive direction. They only have six seniors that they will lose out of their two-deep, so they are certainly having the success they’re having right now and have a great future.”
Currie said K-State is off to a strong start selling tickets to the game, but fans can still purchase tickets in the Wildcats’ section through the athletic department’s ticket office.
“We are on sale now and we are in a general sale,” Currie said. “If you want tickets to the game in K-State’s allotment, you can call right now and see your location online.”
K-State was hoping for more at the start of the weekend, with a share of a conference title and a trip to a playoff-affiliated bowl on the line against Baylor.
But a loss forced the Wildcats to settle for this consolation prize.
“I think everybody was extremely disappointed in the outcome of the ballgame and our performance,” Snyder said Sunday. “That hasn’t changed. ... We had a team meeting today and I think the players were very invested in it. I think they are tremendously disappointed and anxious to get on to the next step.”