The under-the-radar Kansas State Wildcats have a chance to finish as a Top 10 football team.
The Wildcats can state their elite case with authority on Friday if they can dispatch a UCLA team that is favored in the Alamo Bowl despite a lower national ranking.
The Wildcats enter as No. 11, UCLA at No. 14. Since some of the Top 10 teams are guaranteed to fall because of the matchups, Kansas State might be able to inch up a spot or two or three if it can win convincingly against UCLA, just the way Georgia Tech did Wednesday against Mississippi State.
The Wildcats’ slight by the odds-makers plays right into their mantra. They live to be an underdog and I’m sure it’s been pointed out at numerous times these last few days they’ve been disrespected again.
The only losses for the Wildcats were to Auburn, TCU and Baylor, all teams playing today in higher-prestige bowls. They probably should have won the Auburn game if not for some kicking misfortunes, were competitive with Baylor, but pretty well dominated by TCU. Their best wins were against Oklahoma and West Virginia, though the one-point road victory over the Sooners doesn’t shine quite like it did when it happened.
Still, a success against UCLA would give the Wildcats a 10-win season. Bill Snyder has worked his magic with a team with few stars, other than Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett, B.J. Finney and Ryan Mueller, and they are barely known commodities nationally. They don’t go after the 5-star and 4-star recruits, instead relying on those diamonds in the rough that they polish as the season goes along.
The outcome on Friday figures to come down to how well the Wildcats run the ball. This hasn’t been a consistent running team, as Charles Jones is the leading carrier with 521 yards, a far cry from the numbers the ‘Cats’ top backs have churned out in recent years. Jake Waters has thrown for more than 3,000 yards, leading many to worry about the position next year when it figures to fall in the hands of Jon Huebner, unless Snyder unearths one of his juco gems.
The Wildcats’ passing game has been terrific, with Lockett (93, 1,351) a sure All-American while dependable small-school pledge (Abilene High School) Curry Sexton has 69 catches for 955 yards. They are as dynamic a 1-2 receiving duo as Snyder has had.
The Kansas State defense has been up and down, but turned in great efforts against Texas and Oklahoma State, though both of those teams were as inept offensively as they’ve been in a long time. The KSU pass defense will have to be at its best as UCLA has one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Brett Hundley.
I look for the Wildcats' imaginative offense to cause the Bruins some problems, especially with the pop pass that Waters has flummoxed teams with. But again, the Wildcats have to run the ball somewhat effectively to make Waters more striking. If Kansas State is reduced to a one-trick pony, then it could have problems.
Prediction: Kansas State 34, UCLA 28