Happy holidays, Kansas State faithful!
This year, we get to celebrate a bowl game in close proximity to Christmas. The Cactus Bowl kicks off tomorrow night on ESPN. Kansas State is coming off a win in the Texas Bowl last year. UCLA hasn’t won a bowl game recently. The last win for the Bruins? The 2014 Alamo Bowl win over Kansas State.
So, in the spirit of the holiday, and because even the Grinch knows Christmas doesn’t come from a store, the Wildcats have been handed a gift of sorts. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen will not play in the game, and the Wildcats will face a backup quarterback, probably Devon Modster. Whether this is good for the Wildcats are not, only the actual game will tell.
Although the odds have shifted in favor of Kansas State in view of the Rosen decision, Kansas State is equally wary of Modster, who is the sort of deep ball threat the Kansas State secondary has not played well against. Yes, he’s a backup, but the Wildcats gave up 410 yards to Kansas’s Carter Stanley of all people.
For Kansas State, the key to victory may lie in its own offense. Skylar Thompson, who seems well on his way to being the Wildcats starter of the future, will have to manage the game and the fanbase’s growing expectations.
Thompson finding wide receiver Byron Pringle will help. Pringle has not yet made up his mind about returning to Kansas State next year, but Manhattan and the football team have helped turn Pringle’s life around. He has his degree now, and a positive perspective to go with it. Whatever else happens, Pringle has embraced his life as a role model.
For linebacker Trent Tanking, the bowl game is the final act of a stellar college football career. He’s now a captain, a starter, and the team’s leading tackler. He’s also a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, i.e. the academic Heisman, and most significantly, a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, an award given to the most outstanding player that began his career as a walk-on.
The one unit where Kansas State is maybe head-and-shoulders above UCLA is special teams. Indeed, Phil Steele rates the Wildcats’ special teams the best in the country.
There’s so much good here that a bulleted list of accomplishments is necessary. Kansas State’s special teams unit:
- Ranks in the top 15 nationally for punt return (7th) and kickoff return (15th) averages.
- For 13 consecutive years, Kansas State has managed at least one return for a score. That’s not only the nation’s longest streak, it’s five years better than anyone else.
- Kansas State has not given up a kickoff return score for the last 239 attempts (62 games). On punt returns, the numbers are only a bit more modest: 67 returns without a score (49 games).
- D.J. Reed, an All American as a returner, ranks second nationally in kickoff (35.3 yards) and punt return (17.1 yards). His kickoff return average is a school and conference record.
- Pringle is the 12th best kickoff return man in the country. With Pringle and Reed, Kansas State is the only school with two players in the top 15 statistically.
- Nick Walsh averaged 43.7 yards a punt, good enough for #2 in the Big 12. (The league’s best punter, Michael Dixon of Texas, just won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s best punter).
- Last but definitely not least, Matthew McCrane, now Kansas State’s all-time leader in made field goals, made 21 of 26 field goals and did not miss a single extra point in 43 attempts. He’s been invited to the 2018 Senior Bowl as recognition of his impressive kicking skills.
Finally, on Christmas, I leave you with these thoughts from Bob Hope:
Warmest holiday wishes, Bring on the Cats community!