The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl will kickoff Saturday Night without arguably the most recognizable player from either team. The Michigan Wolverines will be without starting quarterback Devin Gardner who will be replaced by freshman Shane Morris.
Gardner’s injury and subsequent absence will make what was projected to be an interesting matchup even more so. Let’s see how some of our writers see it going down.
Even with a healthy Gardner, this one was going to be close. His absence does not bode well any way you look at it. Add in the fact that Bill Snyder has had nearly a month to study Michigan and the Wolverines have even bigger problems.
The B1G impact player in this one will be Michigan tight end Devin Funchess. Morris is going to need a safety valve when he gets in trouble and a solid tight end is a young quarterback’s best friend. If Funchess can be there for a few short and intermediate routes early, it could be what allows Morris to settle in and operate the offense close to the same level that Gardner would have.
Even so, I think this one is won and lost on the sideline. I expect Bill Snyder to outcoach Brady Hoke, leading to a close win for Kansas State.
When they faced Ohio State in Rivalry Week, we saw flashes of what Michigan was capable of when it played up to its potential: being a very good offensive team with sketchy defense. Had that Michigan team showed up all season, this year would not have gone so poorly. The Wolverines can still salvage the season and go into next year with high hopes by pulling out a win vs. KSU. But will they?
The Wildcats, like Michigan, lost to most of the heavy hitters on their schedule this season, but played them quite admirably — including reasonably close games with Oklahoma and Baylor and a heartbreaker at Oklahoma State. Both teams are battle tested and seem evenly matched on paper, but I like Michigan based on the strides they made in their matchup with OSU. The caveat is this pick could fly out the window if they don’t play better defense.
The B1G Difference Maker will be Blake Countess, Michigan’s top CB. He will be put the test vs. a WR that many college football teams would love to have in Tyler Lockett. Countess will need to limit the damage done by Lockett if they want to prevent a track meet style bowl game.
Michigan got bumped up a bowl spot here because of their brand, not really because of their football season. With a healthy Devin Gardner I would have easily picked Michigan here, despite the Big Blue losing 4 out of 5 games to end their season.
Kansas State finished a solid season after stumbling out the gates, but they really didn’t beat any quality (or winning) teams either. I think this is a close game, but I see Kansas State having way less question marks heading into it with being more established under center. Give me Kansas State in a close, hard fought ball game.
The B1G difference maker will be Michigan freshman starting quarterback Shane Morris — who will make a couple of great plays — but ultimately the stage will be too big for him to pull off a W.
PUBLISHED ON DECEMBER 27, 2013