Tonight is the Cactus Bowl, the fourth in a series of “K-State plays someone they’ve already played in a bowl game” bowl games. It’s the second bowl meeting between the Cats and UCLA; they’ve also played Arkansas twice... and Syracuse three times, which is why this is the fourth in a series.
On the surface, you’d think K-State and UCLA don’t have much in common. After all, one school is located in the windswept, largely rural plains, two hours from even a minor metropolitan area. The other is smack dab in the middle of a huge urban area, surrounded by culture and bathed in an eternal summer with a beach just 20 minutes away. One school is the poster child for how hard it can be to recruit to a small town, while the other is bright lights and star power from top to bottom.
But you’d be surprised to discover tonight’s opponent has some serious things in common with our beloved alma mater.
1. The Campus Areas
Yes, UCLA is located in a massive megalopolis while K-State is merely located in a town that shares a name with one. But zoom in a little closer, and you’ll see what we’re getting at here.
One of the key features of the K-State campus is an area just south of the property known as Aggieville. It’s a zone of several square blocks which grew up alongside the campus, driven by the campus, and is geared toward pedestrian traffic and contains numerous places to shop, eat and drink. It’s the centerpiece of the after-hours student experience in Manhattan.
UCLA has much the same thing. Westwood Village is a bustling area which is packed with UCLA students and other locals every single night. Like Aggieville, the Village was originally designed to cater to the university, and is primarily a pedestrian experience.
Lots of schools have areas like this, you’ll say, but the thing which makes Aggieville and Westwood Village truly similar in spirit is this: whereas most school-adjacent shopping districts depend entirely on the school to survive, Aggieville and Westwood Village are actually part of the heartbeat of their respective campus areas. Oklahoma without Campus Corner is still Oklahoma. K-State without Aggieville or UCLA without the Village are diminished.
2. An obnoxious sibling
The rivalry between K-State and Kansas runs a lot deeper than just sports. There aren’t too many states where the divide is truly as deep as it is in the Sunflower State; Texas and Alabama are certainly superior in their level of internecine hatred, but it’s hard to find any other examples for which that would be true.
But California’s got an argument. UCLA will forever have to deal with being the younger brother to Cal-Berkeley, which is actually the opposite problem K-State has with Kansas but it’s still important. For decades, Berkeley tried to exert its influence over UCLA. They tried to prevent the junior campus from offering post-graduate degrees. They fought against UCLA getting medical and law schools. You already know the refrain from here.
3. Cranking out infrastructure degrees
K-State is, as you’re well aware, one of the top post-graduate architecture schools in the nation. Well, UCLA is one of the top post-graduate engineering schools in the nation, with civil engineering being a key focus.
What goes together better than architecture and civil engineering, we ask you? Heck, throughout much of history the two fields were essentially synonymous; it wasn’t until the 18th century that civil engineering began being considered a separate discipline from architecture.
What we’re saying here is that we’re Building Stuff Bros, okay?
We hesitate to bring this up, but on December 5, 1998, both UCLA and K-State had the opportunity to play their way into the inaugural BCS National Championship Game, and they both completely biffed it in heartbreaking fashion. UCLA led Miami 38-21 with 10 seconds left in the third quarter, but Miami exploded for 28 points over the next fifteen minutes. With only 50 seconds remaining, Edgerrin James scored to put Miami in front, and UCLA — ranked #2 in the BCS standings heading into the game — was suddenly out of the picture.
The Wildcats, ranked third in the BCS standings were leading Texas A&M 17-3 in the second quarter when James scored that go-ahead touchdown. All they had to do was hold on and they’d be on their way to the championship game.
And then Michael Bishop fumbled.
Let’s not talk about this anymore.
5. Now, both schools’ fans hate their basketball coach
If you think K-State fans have it in for Bruce Weber, we’re just going to offer this nugget: Bruins Nation has used “Fire Alford” as a headline WAY more often than we’ve ever used “Fire Weber”. Trust us.