How did K-State land in a NY6 bowl game?
When the Big 12 Championship game kicked off, K-State pretty much knew what bowl game they would be playing in. Once the Wildcats were in a position to play in the conference title game, they were assured an opportunity to play in the Sugar Bowl for the first time in program history.
“I’m so excited for our football team, our players, coaching staff, support staff,” head coach Chris Klieman said of playing in the Sugar Bowl. “It’s been a great year, a long year. Had some ups and downs. Guys came together and believed in each other and had great player ownership and found a way to play really good football, especially on the road and late in the season.”
But the path to securing a spot in the Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama was a bit of a winding road. K-State’s early season loss to Tulane made the 2022 season look like it was at a potential breaking point. The Wildcat offense had been pretty stagnant in the first three weeks of the season, and the loss to the Green Wave only intensified those thoughts. But K-State’s offense responded the following week with a dramatic victory over Oklahoma.
The Wildcats’ win at Oklahoma started a three-game winning streak that came to an end when they saw a 28-10 lead over TCU vanish into the Fort Worth night on Oct. 22. Quarterback Will Howard saw his first action of the season against TCU and threw for a pair of touchdowns in relief. The following week, Howard started against Oklahoma State as Adrian Martinez continued to nurse an injured knee from the 10-9 win at Iowa State. In the win over Oklahoma State, Howard had his best game of the season throwing for 296 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-0 win over the Cowboys.
Howard, though, would return to second-string duties against Texas, a game the Wildcats lost at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The loss to Texas put the Longhorns in sole possession of second place in the Big 12, but Texas lost at TCU on the same night that K-State routed Baylor with Howard back at quarterback. Once Texas lost vs. TCU, K-State was back in the lead for the Big 12 title game.
The Wildcats ended their seasons with two convincing second-half performances against West Virginia and Kansas to clinch a spot vs. TCU in the conference title game.
The Crimson Tide’s spot in the Sugar Bowl comes after suffering losses at Tennessee and LSU on the final play of the game. But because LSU lost games to Texas A&M and Georiga in the final week of the regular season and SEC title game, the Tigers were removed from consideration of playing in the Sugar Bowl. Tennessee is set to play in the Orange Bowl vs. Clemson.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our players for starters,” Klieman said of playing Alabama, a program that has won six national titles since 2009. “To be able to play a great opponent like Alabama out of the SEC. … I know when our guys saw Alabama come up they were excited about getting a chance to play one of the traditional powers for decades in college football, especially in the time coach [Nick] Saban has been there.”
Will any players opt out of the Sugar Bowl?
One of the consequences of the College Football Playoff has been the devaluation of the traditional bowl games that aren’t part of the CFP, which has resulted in some of college football’s biggest stars choosing not play in their team’s bowl game over injury concerns before the NFL Draft.
Both K-State and Alabama are now facing these decisions. The Wildcats’ two highest-profile players, Duece Vaughn and Felix Anudike-Uzomah, could choose to not play. But Vaughn told Gabe Ikard and Ian Fitzsimmons of ESPN that he plans to play in the Sugar Bowl saying, “I’m going to compete.”
Anudike-Uzomah is a likely day-two NFL Draft selection, so his decision to opt-out of the Sugar Bowl could be more likely. Still, he’s yet to make any public statement about his decision to play in the Wildcats’ bowl game. But Klieman said that dealing with players’ decisions to play is part of the timeline of playing in bowl games now.
“It’s for all of us, to be honest with ya,” Klieman said. “Coach [Saban] is right, nobody knows what is going on, what representation is talking to guys, what will happen. I think that is going to play itself out over the next three weeks. So we’ll know by that game week or 10 days before who is going to play.
“That’s the nature of college football right now, and whether a guy is going to go prepare for the draft and not risk the injury, those are all personal decisions that everybody has. We’ll take those on our team as they come just as coach [Saban] will do with his team and that’s where we are at in college football right now.”
Meanwhile, Alabama likely has two top-10 NFL picks on their roster that could choose to not play in the Sugar Bowl. Quarterback Bryce Young is one of the most prized offensive players in 2023 Draft, and could be the top overall pick. Edge rusher Will Anderson is also a potential top-5 pick, and he just won his second consecutive Nagurski Award, given to the nation’s best defensive player.
“I think that is a decision that each player has to make,” Saban said. “I don’t think that this up to me. Just about every player on our team can create value for himself by how he plays against good opponents you get evaluated really strongly based on how you play against really good opponents, and we’re going to be playing against a really good opponent.
What other players might not be available for the Sugar Bowl?
This week players from across the country began entering the transfer portal, and both K-State and Alabama have seen players enter their names. As of Wednesday morning, K-State had seen four players insert their name into the transfer portal: backup quarterback
, tight end
While none of K-State’s transfer portal entries to this point have been significant contributors to their success in 2022, the loss of players does impact the depth chart at positions that are a bit thin, including linebacker and corner.
Meanwhile, Alabama has seen 12 players enter the transfer portal as of Wednesday including running back Trey Sanders, defensive back Khyree Jackson, wide receiver Chrisitan Leary, offensive lineman Tanner Bowles, receiver Traeshon Holden, offensive lineman Javion Cohen, receiver JoJo Earle and offensive tackle Amari Knight.