SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Winning tradition, unmistakable fight song, iconic helmets … Michigan football has all of it.
That hasn’t been lost on Kansas State this month. When the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl selected Michigan as K-State’s postseason opponent, many on the Wildcats’ roster were thrilled about the opportunity.
“There will be a time where I stand there, look around, soak it all in and say, ‘Wow, man, this is Michigan,’” K-State senior linebacker Blake Slaughter said. “They are a great team, a storied program. I just respect the way they do things. They are a class-act program. It is going to be special to play a bowl game and to be able to do it on that stage against that team.”
It’s not every day you get to play a truly storied football program. Sure, K-State plays national powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma annually in Big 12 play, and it has recently faced Miami, Oregon and Arkansas. But to many, Michigan is a different animal.
The Wolverines have more victories (917) and a better winning percentage (.733) than any team in college football. They play in a stadium nicknamed “The Big House” that holds close to 110,000 fans on Saturdays. They have won 42 conference titles, they have won 11 national titles and they have produced three Heisman Trophy winners.
K-State hasn’t faced that kind of historically strong program since Ohio State in the 2004 Fiesta Bowl and Southern California in 2002 at home.
“I know things have changed as we have gotten older, but growing up if you said, ‘Who is the best team in the country,’ you would say Michigan,” K-State receiver Curry Sexton said. “They are always in the top 25. They used to be in the top 10 and top 5 every year. They are such a historic program.
“To play a team like that a team that everybody knows about, that’s something you dream about. You dream about playing Michigan as a kid.”
Junior quarterback Jake Waters feels the same way. Growing up in Iowa, he was a big Michigan fan. So much so, that his mother called after the bowl assignment to remind him of the Michigan football blanket and poster that used to reside in his room.
Lining up against the Wolverines will be a special moment for him.
“I have kind of grown out of liking them,” Waters joked.
Wildcats coach Bill Snyder saw Michigan up close when he was an offensive coordinator at Iowa, and he was similarly impressed. He has respected the Wolverines ever since.
“The idea that you are playing the University of Michigan, regardless of where that happens to be or when, is an amazing challenge,” Snyder said. “If you aren’t up for that, you are in some serious trouble.”
And wins over first-class programs are remembered.
Even though both Michigan and K-State enter the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at 7-5, Sexton thinks the Wolverines’ storied history will add meaning to the game when fans look back on it. A victory would feel priceless.
“Michigan is a program similar to Alabama, Texas or USC,” Sexton said. “It is a program that is going to be good forever, because of how much pride they take in their program. To be able to, years down the road, catch up with your teammates and talk about the time we beat Michigan or talk with your kids and grandkids about the time you beat Michigan, that isn’t something a lot of people can say. That would be so big time.”