Kansas State and Michigan will finish the year in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, but that is where the similarities between their seasons end.
K-State went from 2-4, with an unexpected loss to North Dakota State and three straight conference defeats, to 7-5.
Michigan went from 5-0, with a signature victory over Notre Dame, to 7-5, losing one agonizing game after another.
They have been polar opposites.
The Wildcats now have a shot at breaking into the year-end national polls with a strong showing in the postseason. The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is their opportunity to add style points to a campaign that already feels successful.
“I am proud of my team for turning it around, going 5-1 after we went 2-4,” junior linebacker Jonathan Truman said. “It was just important to us to get things corrected and to turn the season around in a positive way.”
For the Wolverines, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is their final shot at redemption, an opportunity to salvage an otherwise regrettable season.
“It's exciting for our team to have the opportunity to finish with one more game,” Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “It's been a disappointing season in some ways, because we've lost a number of games by very close scores. But playing in this game, playing one last game, gives us an opportunity to do what we have to do.”
Simply put: K-State coach Bill Snyder and Michigan coach Brady Hoke will use different motivational techniques as they prepare for their Dec. 28 matchup in Tempe, Ariz.
Snyder has already used words like “vacation” and “honor” to describe the Wildcats’ upcoming bowl trip. He wants to win, of course, but he doesn’t need to play the “desperation” card with his players. The time for that is long gone.
He would rather them treat this game like any other, and feed off their current momentum.
“I’m pleased certainly for the youngsters in our program and the people that work so hard and commit so much of their time, effort and emotions into this team,” Snyder said of the bowl invite. “Certainly for the fan base, it is important to them, and they like that. For so many, it is the vacation time. I think it is meaningful in that respect.
“As it relates to the rest of college football itself, it is better than not having any other opportunity, for sure. I think it is a positive accomplishment.”
The Wolverines are looking forward to the bowl trip, too, but their focus is elsewhere. It’s hard for teams to go from thinking about the Rose Bowl to soaking up the sun before a middle-tier bowl.
Though unimpressive victories over Akron and Connecticut can now be considered signs of bad things to come, Michigan wasn’t that far from away from a 10-win season. Four of its five losses came by four points or less.
There was a 43-40 setback at Penn State (in four overtimes) that started the collapse, then a four-point loss to Nebraska, a three-point loss to Iowa and a nail-biting loss to Ohio State that came down to a two-point conversion.
Finishing games is Michigan’s new priority.
“Whenever you're in a lot of very, very close games, you're either going to be successful or not successful. It comes down to one play usually,” Mattison said. “The Nebraska game, it was a fourth-and-2. The Iowa game, it was a stop, one last stop. Penn State, we thought we won it, but we missed the field goal.
“All of those situations, when you want to be a great defense, you try to live up to the reputation that Michigan defense has built over the years, you have to make those stops. That's what we have to do.”
One team thrived early. The other excelled late. They ended up taking drastically different paths to the same destination.
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl will decide which season is better.