KANSAS STATE WILDCATS (9-3) VS. UCLA BRUINS (9-3)
JAN. 2, 6:45 P.M. ET, ALAMODOME, SAN ANTONIO (ESPN)
KANSAS STATE BREAKDOWN
Season highlights: On Oct. 18, the Wildcats won a second consecutive game at Oklahoma to solidify their status as a Big 12 title contender. K-State surrendered 533 yards of offense but bowed up with a critical goal-line stand at the end of the game to force Oklahoma into a field goal. The Sooners missed the chip shot, and K-State ran out the clock with a couple of first downs to preserve a 31-30 victory. K-State quarterback Jake Waters had one of the finest games of his career, with 225 yards passing, a 53-yard run and three touchdowns.
Season lowlights: The Wildcats had every opportunity to land the marquee win of the nonconference season. But ultimately, too many uncharacteristic mistakes cost K-State in a 20-14 loss to then-No. 5 Auburn on Sept. 18. Waters fumbled deep in K-State territory, which led to an Auburn field goal, Tyler Lockett allowed a pass to bounce off his chest into the hands of an Auburn defender in the end zone to negate a touchdown, and veteran kicker Jack Cantele missed three field goals. The Wildcats still had a chance to get the ball back in the final minute, but the Tigers converted a third-and-9 to seal the game.
Player to watch: Lockett has been one of the preeminent all-around playmakers in college football the past three years. Late this season, he passed his father Kevin to become the all-time leading receiver in K-State history. He has produced back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and going into the final week of 2014, he led the country in average yards per punt return.
Motivation: The Wildcats don’t want their regular-season-ending loss to Baylor in the pseudo-Big 12 title game to linger by dropping the Alamo Bowl, thus heading into the offseason with two straight defeats. More importantly, K-State will want to send Lockett, Waters, productive defensive end Ryan Mueller and the rest of the senior class out with a win. And the Wildcats can defend the Big 12’s reputation with a win over the Pac-12’s Bruins, adding to the intrigue and motivation for Bill Snyder’s team.
-- Jake Trotter
Season highlights: After back-to-back losses seemingly took UCLA out of the Pac-12 South race three games into the conference season, the Bruins roared back. During its five-game winning streak to improve to 9-2, UCLA showed several flashes of the type of team many thought it would be when it began the season ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll. The capper was a 38-20 win over USC that made an emphatic statement as to which school “owned” Los Angeles.
Season lowlights: Going into the final game of the regular season, UCLA just needed a win against Stanford to secure the Pac-12 South title and remain in contention for the College Football Playoff. Just a win against an underperforming 6-5 team at home. That’s all. But the Cardinal dominated UCLA in a 31-10 win, preventing the Bruins from obtaining any of their tangible goals.
Player to watch: Quarterback Brett Hundley could have been a first-round NFL draft pick if he left after the 2013 season, but he decided to come back for what he made clear would be a final season at UCLA. He spent the beginning of the season trying to be more comfortable in the pocket, but once the Bruins started losing, he started to rely more on his feet to make plays. The bowl game is a final opportunity to play within his own offense as he tries to impress NFL scouts.
Motivation factor: If the Bruins win their bowl, they would secure the ninth 10-win season in school history. It would also be just the third time in school history that they have notched back-to-back 10-win years. UCLA has never had an 11-win season. With only six scholarship seniors this year, the Bruins are still a young team and any opportunity to develop is of value.
-- Kyle Bonagura