photo credit Kirby Lee//USA Today
by Lisa Horne
No. 11 Kansas State (9-3) and No. 14 UCLA (9-3) will be playing in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Friday, January, 2 in San Antonio, Texas. UCLA has never played in this bowl. Kansas State is 0-1 with a loss to Purdue in 1998. This is the first time the bowl has hosted two teams ranked in the Top 15, according to the bowl's official website.
The Alamo Bowl pits the second choice Pac-12 team vs the third choice Big 12 team. Obviously, there are some ramifications on the line. If Kansas State wins, one could argue that the Big 12's third best team is better than the Pac-12's second. The Big 12 is already a little bent out of shape due to both Baylor and TCU missing the College Football Playoff. Kansas State is representing a lot of ticked off fans.
The Wildcats are very disciplined, typical of a Bill Snyder-coached team. Kansas State is ranked 18th in the nation in penalties, averaging only 4.3 fouls per game. UCLA averages 7.4 fouls per game and is ranked 117. Head coach Jim Mora has to work on the team's discipline or the Bruins will be giving away field position to the very opportunistic Wildcats.
Kansas State has an outstanding +9 turnover margin. This team is very methodical in its approach to winning games: take the ball away from your opponent and do not make silly mistakes. UCLA is -1 in turnover margin.
UCLA's offense is averaging around 468 yards per game and is ranked 23rd among all FBS teams. If UCLA can jump out early and build a nice lead by the first half, Kansas State will be hard pressed to find a way to win—its offense can struggle playing catch-up football.
Special teams play will be a huge factor in deciding the outcome of this game. Kansas State placekicker Matthew McCrane is on fire and has made 16 of 17 field goals. UCLA's Ka'imi Fairbairn is also accurate hitting 16 of 20. The punt/kick return specialists for both teams are outstanding.
UCLA's Ishmael Adams has returned one kick for a touchdown this season. Kansas State's Tyler Lockett is ranked first among all punt returners averaging 19 yards a return—two of his returns resulted in touchdowns.
UCLA's biggest win was against No. 10 Arizona. Kansas State's biggest win was against a currently unranked Oklahoma. Both teams had heartbreaking losses: UCLA to Stanford (the Bruins were favored) and Kansas State to Auburn. The Wildcats' loss to Auburn was early in the season and to a non-conference opponent so it did not adversely affect their standing in the Big 12. UCLA's loss to Stanford the day after Thanksgiving, on the other hand, was devastating—it prevented the Bruins from playing Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship.
If UCLA shows up still licking its wounds from its loss to Stanford then recruiting may fall off sharply. Beating an elite team in Big XII country is a great opportunity for the Bruins.
The Bruins may have lost two players in the last week. Linebacker Zach Whitley was first reported as leaving the team but he is still listed on the team roster. Safety Tyler Foreman has been granted a transfer release, according to InsideSoCal.com.
The Bruins' psyche needs a boost. This UCLA team is still young and needs to learn how to bounce back from unexpected losses. In October the Bruins' suffered back-to-back losses to Utah and Oregon before righting the ship.
If UCLA's secondary can keep up with receivers Lockett and Curry Sexton then the Bruins should be in the game. Running back Paul Perkins is also key to the Bruins' game plan. If UCLA cannot establish the running game then quarterback Brett Hundley will not be able to keep the defense honest. UCLA's offensive line must open up holes for Perkins and protect Hundley.
This bowl is a fantastic venue. San Antonio has a lot of culture and history and is the home of the original puffy taco. Fans should all take a trip to Henry's Puffy Tacos for a real treat. Checking out the Alamo is a must, of course. So is dining on the Riverwalk.
This contest should be close but Snyder's experience in big games may trump Mora's. When Hundley is on his game, he is impossible to stop. But he has been inconsistent. Which Hundley will show up in San Antonio? And can UCLA put together a complete game like it did against USC?
Prediction: Kansas State 31 UCLA 27