Kansas St.-UCLA Preview
While Kansas State came up short in its attempt to earn a share of the Big 12 title, UCLA can't forget its stumble with an opportunity to advance to the Pac-12 championship game in the regular-season finale.
Both squads will seek redemption in the Alamo Bowl on Friday night when the 11th-ranked Wildcats and No. 14 Bruins try to reach 10 wins in what's likely to be Brett Hundley's final game for UCLA.
Although its shot at a berth in the College Football Playoff essentially ended with a loss at TCU on Nov. 8, Kansas State had a chance to win its second conference title in three years. It couldn't do so, falling 38-27 at Baylor on Dec. 6.
Despite that disappointment, the Wildcats (9-3) still have plenty to play for in San Antonio as they look to win 10 games for the third time in four years and finish with a top-10 ranking for the first time since 2002.
"Obviously, finishing the season the right way is very significant," said coach Bill Snyder, who has guided Kansas State to a 7-7 bowl record in his 23 years. "We have been on both sides of the ledger, and obviously to finish the way you desire too is much more palatable, I think."
Kansas State's Jake Waters looks to continue the strong finish to his college career, having completed 73.9 percent of his passes for an average of 331.3 yards in his last three games. The dual-threat quarterback has thrown for 3,163 yards and 20 touchdowns with six interceptions while rushing for 471 yards and eight scores.
Waters directs an efficient zone-read offense similar to what Arizona runs, which may bode well for the Bruins since they limited the Wildcats to a season-low point total and 255 yards in a 17-7 win Nov. 1.
''That's what Arizona made a ton of money doing this year,'' UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said of Kansas State's offense. ''It's the quadruple option. There are four options on virtually every play, so we got to be ready.''
Kansas State ranks 19th nationally with 283.2 passing yards per game and is tied for 21st with 35.8 points. Tyler Lockett is Waters' top target with 93 catches for 1,351 yards and nine touchdowns.
"We have a plethora of quality young people with a very significant value system who I am so very proud of, and certainly Tyler is one of those, our quarterback Jake Waters is one of those," Snyder said.
The Bruins (9-3) have a star signal caller of their own in Hundley, who is headed to the NFL, according to coach Jim Mora. He's thrown for 3,019 yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 70.4 percent of his attempts.
The junior is also second on the Bruins with 548 rushing yards and eight scores, trailing running back Paul Perkins, who has 1,378 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Jordan Payton has caught a team-high 63 passes for 896 yards and seven TDs, while Devin Fuller has 57 receptions for 428 yards and one touchdown.
"It is a little frightening when you look at the success of Brett Hundley and the capacity they have to be balanced in their offense to run and pass," Snyder said. "To be a productive defense is obviously something you have some concern about."
Hundley, though, will have to bounce back after going 17 of 32 for 146 yards and finishing with minus-18 yards rushing on six carries in a 31-10 home loss to Stanford on Nov. 28.
The Bruins would have clinched the South Division and played for the Pac-12 title with a victory.
''That one needed to hurt,'' Mora said. ''That one still hurts. That one hasn't gone away. That one is never going to go away.''
Hundley should be ready following his exit late in that contest after hitting his throwing hand on a helmet. He'll try to lead UCLA to a second straight 10-win season and ninth in school history.
Hundley faces a Kansas State team that ranks 27th nationally with 21.8 points allowed per game and 36th in total defense at 361.3 yards. The Wildcats, though, gave up 553 yards to TCU and 584 against Baylor.
The Bruins haven't finished higher than 16th in the AP poll since 1998, and they haven't won consecutive bowl games since taking eight in a row from 1983-91. They beat Virginia Tech 42-12 in the 2013 Sun Bowl.
"We are a young team that is hungry and still developing, and this is just going to be another step in our progression," Mora said. "For us a chance to play a tremendous team on a big stage and I think that is how you grow as a competitor."
Mora's club is led defensively by second team All-American Eric Kendricks, the Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker. The senior leads the country in solo tackles per game (8.0) and is sixth in total tackles (11.6).
These school have met twice, with UCLA winning 23-9 at home Sept. 19, 2009 before Kansas State returned the favor with a 31-22 victory in Manhattan on Sept. 4, 2010.