K-State looking to end five-bowl losing streak at Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
By Arne Green
By Arne Green
Special to The Telegram
TEMPE, Ariz. — Bill Snyder posed the question to his Kansas State Wildcats, fully aware of the answer.
The players knew, too, but he made his point.
"The first thing he said when we even made it to a bowl game was, 'Raise your hand if you ever won a bowl game,' " senior running back John Hubert recalled. "Nobody raised their hand."
When the Wildcats take on Michigan at 9:15 tonight in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium, they will look to end a decade-long postseason drought that now has reached five games.
"Us seniors have been talking about it this whole bowl prep," said free safety Ty Zimmerman, who is back from a leg injury that forced him to miss the last two regular-season games. "We've been to four straight bowl games and haven't won one yet.
"It's been a long time since K-State has won one, so that's a big motivational factor for us — a win in a bowl game, ending our career the right way and then hopefully starting a trend here with K-State."
For the record, the last time K-State did hoist a bowl trophy was Dec. 27, 2002, in San Diego, when they came from behind in the fourth quarter to beat Arizona State, 34-27, in the Holiday Bowl.
The skid started the following year on Jan. 2, 2004, with a 35-28 Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State in the same Sun Devil Stadium where tonight's game will take place. It also included a 34-10 Texas Bowl loss to Rutgers in 2006 under Ron Prince during Snyder's brief retirement.
The current players only remember the last three, falling to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl, Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl and last year to Oregon in the Fiesta.
"We don't want that feeling anymore," Hubert said. "This is my last year and I want to go out with a victory, with a bang."
Of K-State's 16 all-time bowl appearances, 14 have come under Snyder, who has a 6-8 record. Asked earlier this month why the Wildcats have struggled in postseason games, Snyder was hard-pressed to pinpoint it.
"If I had a genuinely accurate answer, you wouldn't have to ask the question," he said. "So it's obvious that one of my many failings is that I don't have the answer to that.
"It could be a multitude of things, and perhaps it is a multitude of things, or maybe it's something simple that I'm overlooking. I think number one, we've played tremendously talented football teams."
Perhaps he should have turned to junior defensive end Ryan Mueller for help.
"The other team just keeps scoring more points than us," he said with a smile. "We haven't been able to score more points than them and get the win."
Though Mueller made light of it, nobody is more determined to end the discussion.
"My freshman year at the Pinstripe Bowl, I didn't even play a down — I was redshirted," he said of the 2010 game at New York's Yankee Stadium. "It was our first time going to a bowl game in a long time, and I didn't really understand how big a bowl game is and to think that guys were used to going home during this time and not even having the experience.
"I would be in the locker room after the loss and coach Snyder would come and talk, and that's when I just really started to think, 'Wow, this coach has been coaching for so long and his bowl record doesn't speak for how great of a coach he really is — how great of a mentor he really is to young people.' As a player, I just felt internally, 'Gosh, what can I do to get this coach a win in a bowl game and end this season on a real positive note?' "
He asked himself the same question after a 29-16 Cotton Bowl loss to end the 2011 season, and then again last year after they fell 35-17 to Oregon at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
"I'm tired of that after-the-game feeling," Mueller said. "We can't make coach happy at the end of the season.
"This next bowl game is going to lead to another opportunity where hopefully after the game we can celebrate a victory."
One common theme in the five-game bowl losing streak has been slow starts. Only in a 36-34 loss to Syracuse in 2010 did the Wildcats score first, and they didn't lead any of the games at the end of the first quarter or the half.
Snyder, well known for leaving no stone unturned, has examined the pattern, but isn't sure why it happened.
"We've talked about it and done individual study and talked to the players about it," he said. "It's significant in any ballgame that you play that you have the capacity to get off to a good start.
"Why is it? I have lots of things that I can speculate about but don't really know."
Snyder, who values consistency over all else, said that any tinkering he does with bowl preparation from year to year has more to do with the schedule than anything. This year's game is on Dec. 28, while the two previous ones came after New Year's Day.
Wide receiver Curry Sexton, a junior, said he sees no reason to drastically alter the routine.
"I think from the start, it wasn't about our preparation," he said. "Obviously we need to prepare better, but I don't think that means we need to change anything besides just practicing better, meeting better, and doing all those things better."
One person who was not the least bit interested in hearing about K-State's recent bowl woes was Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
"I don't put any stake in that at all, believe me," he said.
K-State, 7-5, does bring some momentum into the bowl after winning five of its last six regular-season games. Michigan, also 7-5, has lost four of five after a 6-1 start.
"Every season has its own successes and failures," Sexton said. "But any time you end with a loss, it puts everything that went well in kind of a negative light because the one thing you're going to remember is how the season ended up.
"So obviously we'd like to go down there and get a win. That would be huge for the program, for the seniors, for all the guys coming back next year."