MANHATTAN — A chaotic weekend of college football ended well for Kansas State. On Sunday, the Wildcats accepted an invitation to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, where they will face Michigan.
The postseason game will be played at 9:15 p.m. on Dec. 28 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. The Wildcats and Wolverines have never played.
K-State earned a spot in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl after finishing the regular season 7-5, and then getting some help from Oklahoma. After finishing fifth in the Big 12 standings, K-State was in line to play in the Holiday Bowl, which picks fifth in the conference’s bowl pecking order, but Oklahoma played its way into the Sugar Bowl by beating Oklahoma State.
Along with conference champion Baylor, the Big 12 sent two teams to BCS bowls, opening the door for K-State to move up to the league’s No. 4 bowl.
“We are honored and proud to be selected for the bowl game,” K-State football coach Bill Snyder said. “We’ve had so many opportunities to be in Phoenix and the surrounding areas for this bowl game and the Fiesta Bowl as well.
“We just have a great appreciation for the people there that have treated us in a very first-class manner. We appreciate the opportunity to be back.”
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which has previously been known as the Copper Bowl or the Insight.com Bowl, is also the No. 4 bowl in the Big Ten’s pecking order. Many expected it to select Nebraska (8-4), but the bowl opted against a matchup of former Big Eight and Big 12 rivals. It instead chose Michigan (7-5), setting up a contest of teams that took different paths to the same end point.
K-State opened the season 2-4 with a surprising loss to North Dakota State and three straight defeats in Big 12 play. At that point, reaching a bowl was in doubt. Michigan started 5-0 and surged up the national polls, but plummeted after losing to Penn State in four overtimes. It has lost four of its last five games.
Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who filled in for head coach Brady Hoke during a teleconference Sunday, said the Wolverines’ disappointing finish will help keep players motivated.
“I don’t know if you ever wipe the season clean,” Mattison said. “I think what you do is emphasize why you didn’t win the games you felt like you should have won. You make sure during these extra bowl practices that you don’t make those mistakes again.”
Mattison doesn’t know much about K-State yet, but he thinks Michigan’s defense will need to play at a higher level to stop the Wildcats.
“I mean this sincerely — Coach Snyder is a tremendous football coach,” Mattison said. “They will always be very, very well coached, which they are. To win five of the last six games and average 35 points per game, you know their offense has the ability to score on anybody.”
Snyder issued similar praise for Michigan, going back to his days as an assistant coach at Iowa.
“It was always a very challenging time competing against them,” Snyder said. “They were always a tremendous football team and they always have been … I just admire what they’ve meant to college football and the kind of program that they have — a very first-class program.”
This will be a familiar bowl trip for K-State. It won the Copper Bowl in 1993, it lost the Insight.com Bowl in 2001 and it has played in the nearby Fiesta Bowl three times, including last season.
Snyder hopes this trip ranks near the top.
“It means a great deal to me,” Snyder said. “Also, it’s the opportunity for our young guys to continue to make the progress that’s important to our program, and to have the opportunity to compete in a bowl game year-in and year-out is significant and it means a lot to them.”