It’s finally here — the last game of the 2019 football season for your Kansas State Wildcats.
And unlike last year, when the season ended in a loss at Iowa State, this season’s final contest comes in a bowl game, the 2019 Liberty Bowl game in Memphis, TN.
Things have changed a bit regarding the Liberty Bowl’s relationship with the Big 12 since the Wildcats last appearance in Memphis back in 2016 (2015 season). When the Wildcats first made the trip southeast, the Liberty Bowl was near the bottom of the Big 12 pecking order, and pitted a 6-6 K-State team that limped through the 2015 season, against a 7-5 Arkansas squad that was bigger, stronger, and faster. And the Wildcats still made a game of it through the first three quarters before ultimately succumbing to the Razorbacks 45-23.
In 2019, the Liberty Bowl has moved several steps up in the pecking order, and today an 8-4 Wildcats squad that finished in a tie for 3rd in the Big 12 will face off against AAC West runner-up Navy, sporting a 10-2 record of their own.
Not only has the Liberty Bowl changed since 2016, the Wildcats have changed in more than just the guys on the roster. A new coach is leading the Wildcats to Memphis this time, as the Wildcats have turned things around in Chris Klieman’s first season in Manhattan. Last year, the Wildcats struggled to a 5-7 finish that ultimately helped push legendary Hall of Fame coach Bill Snyder to retire for the second (and likely final) time. Klieman took largely the same group, patched in some guys at running back, infused some youth, and, of course, changed up schemes on offense and defense (but not special teams, because why would you mess with the best return scheme in college football), and took the program back to where it belongs — playing in a post-season game.
Chris Klieman is, maybe surprisingly, not the first coach to lead the Wildcats to a bowl game in his first season. The other guy who did it only lasted for three seasons in Manhattan before burning nearly every bridge possible on the way out of town and necessitating the return of Snyder to the sidelines. But things definitely feel different this time. The team got better through the season, they beat KU convincingly, they beat OU, they finished the regular season with two straight wins with the distinct possibility for a third.
However, Navy is a different animal than the Wildcats are used to. The Navy Midshipmen run an offensive attack that will remind long-time Wildcat fans of the days when OU and Nebraska ran roughshod, literally, over the rest of the Big 8. A triple-option-based run-first attack has been effective enough to beat all but two teams on the Midshipmen’s schedule, which means two things: 1. Navy is a very tough out, and 2. they are not invincible or impossible to defend. The right defensive scheme, and an effective offense, can keep the Navy offense in check and is the path to victory for the Wildcats.
Both teams will be fighting hard for a chance to end their season with a win, lets just hope the Wildcats are up to the challenge so they can head back to Manhattan with another bowl trophy for the display case.
We’re the second bowl game today, with an 2:45pm CST kickoff being aired for a national audience on ESPN with Roy Philpott (play-by-play), Kelly Stouffer (analyst), and Lauren Sisler (sideline) on the call. The game should also be available streaming via WatchESPN.
If for some reason you don’t get ESPN, or can’t access the stream, the game can be heard across the 39-station K-State Sports Network with Wyatt Thompson (play-by-play), former K-State quarterback Stan Weber (analyst), and Matt Walters (sidelines) calling the action. The game will likely also be on satellite radio, both on the prime ESPN station (which also has some terrestrial radio stations; with Bill Roth (play-by-play), Dustin Fox (analyst), and Taylor Davis (sideline) on the call) as well as possibly the K-State broadcast on one of the usual channels. You can also listen to the K-State broadcast at K-StateSports.com. Live stats are available at k-statesports.com, and Twitter updates (@KStateFB) will also be a part of the coverage.