Two top-15-ranked teams take the field in the Alamo City Friday, both eyeing back-to-back bowl wins and 10-win seasons. No. 11 K-State will look to send 22 seniors out in style, while No. 14 UCLA will enjoy likely its last game with redshirt junior quarterback Brett Hundley at the helm of the offense.
Here’s a breakdown of the game from Collegian sportswriters:
X-Factor for K-State:
The safe answer would be Jake Waters or Tyler Lockett. The two have combined for 4,514 yards and 37 touchdowns on the offensive side of the ball. A creditable answer would be Curry Sexton, who’s become a monster wide receiver for the Wildcats alongside Lockett. But the true, needed X-factor for K-State has to be defensive end Ryan Mueller.
The hard-nosed senior has faced double-teams in every game, and as a result, his numbers have dipped from 62 total tackles (11.5 sacks) in 2013 to 33 this season (5.5 sacks). However, Mueller has the big-play capability to keep a talented, scrambling quarterback like Hundley on his heels all game. He’ll need to have a big game against a shaky UCLA offensive line if the Wildcats hope to leave with an Alamo Bowl title. — Sports Editor Tate Steinlage
X-Factor for UCLA:
When you talk about playmakers in the NCAA, you have to mention senior linebacker Eric Kendricks. While Hundley definitely poses a threat to the Wildcats, Kendricks — winner of the 2014 Butkus Award — is the heart and soul of the defense. UCLA needs needs him and his linebacker corps to perform well against the dual-threat Wildcat offense.
Kendricks is the NCAA leader in solo tackles and sixth in total tackles, and has a the talents to sniff out and stop runs up the middle of the defense. Also, with three interceptions on the year, Kendricks also helps add depth to the pass defense of the Bruins that will need to perform well against one of the most efficient passing games in the country. — Sportswriter Emilio Rivera
Who needs to step up for K-State:
K-State’s inability to run the ball at times this season makes it easy for me to pick the offensive line. However, it’s the linebacking core who needs to step up and prove that they can contain a dual-threat quarterback.
Against TCU and Auburn (even Stephen F. Austin early on), the linebackers were often caught out of position, be it on a designed quarterback run or a scramble. With Hundley possessing the same capabilities on the ground as Trevone Boykin and Nick Marshall, the linebackers will need to keep leverage and make the first tackle when it presents itself. — Steinlage
Who needs to step up for UCLA:
It’s key for the UCLA offense to get a run game going against this stingy K-State defense. But in order to get UCLA running back Paul Perkins and Hundley going on the ground, the offensive line needs to step up. The Bruin’s are 116th in the nation in sacks allowed with 39. Now, K-State hasn’t been outstanding at forcing sacks this season, but that doesn’t mean that, if Mueller and company aren’t given a open opportunity, they won’t take it. The UCLA offensive line needs to block and protect well for their offense to be as dangerous as it can be. — Sportswriter Tim Everson
What a win means for K-State:
Back-to-back bowl wins for the Wildcats for the first time since the 1999, 2000 seasons. K-State also has a chance to finish in the top 10 for the first time since 2002. Bowl wins often propel a team towards next season’s success, and the Wildcats may need that as 22 talented seniors exit the program following Friday’s contest. — Steinlage
What a win means for UCLA:
A win against K-State gives validation for a season gone awry. UCLA was picked as a possible College Football Playoff candidate. Hundley was a dark horse Heisman candidate and poised to do big things this season. Obviously, none of those things came to fruition. If the Bruins win the Alamo Bowl, maybe the season won’t be a complete success in the mind of UCLA’s players, coaches and fans, but the season will at least have been salvaged from a complete, unmitigated disappointment. Also, finishing the season with a win would boost coach Jim Mora Jr,’s already impressive 2015 recruiting class that is currently ranked 14th according to Rivals. — Everson
Why K-State will win:
K-State will walk away from San Antonio with a win because of discipline. K-State is No. 2 in the nation in total turnovers lost and top-10 in total penalties and penalties per game. K-State has played already played a game this season where their mistakes where the only thing between a win and a loss. When it comes down the stretch again, don’t think that a Bill Snyder-coached team will fall into the trap that they fell into with Auburn. Especially considering that the Bruins are 100th and 108th in penalties and penalties per game in college football, they aren’t the most disciplined group K-State has faced, by a long shot. — Everson
Why UCLA will win:
The K-State offense is very dependent on either getting the pass or run offense going through the option game. In almost every game that the Wildcats have either lost or struggled in, the offense was forced to be more one-sided. While one-sided offenses work for some teams, the Wildcats need both games to succeed to grind out long drives. As long as the Bruin defense can shut down the passing game early on and put the load on the Wildcats’ backfield, the Bruins will pull away. — Rivera