Let’s predict: Cactus Bowl

Willie swings keys during the kickoff against Iowa State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 25, 2017. (Photo by Alanoud Alanazi | Collegian Media Group)

Tomorrow is the day.

K-State fans have waited eagerly for the bowl game, and now, it is finally here.

This year’s football correspondents participated in a new prediction panel, and talked about what they thought this year’s Cactus Bowl would bring.

The order follows:

DeAundra Allen, @DeAundraAl — sports editor

Nathan Enserro, @nenserro — assistant sports editor

Brett Engle, @Engle_Island — primary correspondent

Avery Osen, @33avery — secondary correspondent

Allen: I’m looking forward to this match.

I think the biggest struggles K-State will have is going to be their secondary. Their secondary has struggled, and it shows through in big plays.

However, UCLA’s rushing defense is … suboptimal. Their rushing defense is horrid and is known to fall through at the worst times.

Between K-State’s secondary and UCLA’s rushing defense, I’d be more worried as a UCLA fan rather than a K-State fan.

I can see this game feeling like a long one, but I can also see it going by super fast with back-to-back scoring. I think I’m willing to gamble more that it’ll be a long one, though. Lots of plays on either offense, taking large amounts of time off the clock and the ability to keep UCLA at bay.

Enserro: K-State will come out flat, just like they tend to in bowl games. Last time they played UCLA in a bowl game, they basically handed UCLA a 17-point lead and were down 31-6 at halftime. They came back in the second half, but still lost that game 40-35.

Of course, the only thing is constant between that game and this one is K-State head coach Bill Snyder. Most of the players and UCLA’s former head coach Jim Mora from 2014 have since moved on.

This year’s teams are good at opposing things. K-State can run and UCLA can’t stop the run; UCLA can pass and K-State is one of the worst teams at stopping the pass. This game is pretty much an unstoppable force meeting a soft and movable object, in both directions.

K-State and UCLA will both play to their strengths, and it will actually come down to each team’s weaknesses. Simply put, can K-State do more on offense in the passing game than UCLA can do in the running game?

This is where the status of sophomore quarterback Alex Delton really becomes important for K-State. Delton went down in consecutive weeks with apparent head injuries.

Sophomore quarterback Skylar Thompson took over and appears to be the future at the position and should get the Cactus Bowl start. Having Delton as a possible back-up will free up the play calling for K-State, though.

K-State played the last three weeks of the regular season with uncertainty sitting behind Thompson on the depth chart. They had redshirt sophomore Hunter Hall, a preferred walk-on, and then running backs in a Wildcat formation.

A reliable back-up will allow K-State to utilize the run-pass option as well as straight up quarterback runs. That triple threat offense—running back, quarterback run and pass—should be more effective.

K-State will need to figure out a way to lock down UCLA’s junior quarterback Josh Rosen, if he plays. Rosen was knocked out of the last game of the season with an injury and could be declaring early for the NFL draft. It is possible that the nation’s fifth best passer could miss the Cactus Bowl.

K-State has shown that they can beat great passing offenses this season, despite having a downright terrible pass defense. Tom Hayes’ bend-but-don’t-break defense will likely give up a lot of yards, but few points. This will feel very much like a Big 12 Conference game.

Thompson will provide an edge for K-State in the passing game that will lead K-State to a 45-42 victory.

Engle: I think the matchup between K-State and UCLA is a very interesting one.

UCLA’s quarterback Josh Rosen is the real deal, and I fully expect him to succeed in the NFL. He can make all the throws downfield and could put the ball about wherever he wants, which could be a problem for the Wildcats’ secondary, which has struggled from time to time.

On the other hand, UCLA’s run defense might be even worse. I wouldn’t be surprised to see multiple drives by the offense that consists of 15-20 plays, taking eight-plus minutes off the clock. The more the Wildcats are on offense, that just means there’s less time for Rosen and the UCLA offense to score points.

Final score: 31-24, K-State

Osen: I feel very optimistic about the upcoming Cactus featuring the Wildcats and Bruins. My score prediction would be 31-21 Kansas State.

The last time these two teams played in the Alamo Bowl, it was a shootout with the Bruins coming out on top 40-35.

I expect the K-State defense to hold their own against future top five draft pick quarterback Josh Rosen.

K-State has historically not been very good in bowl games, but I think the Wildcats will make it two straight bowl wins for the first time since 1999-2000.

The Wildcats are 8-12 in bowl games overall, with most of those losses coming in the Bill Snyder era, which is really the only knock against him in his coaching career in Manhattan.

So with all this pretty bad history, why would I ever pick K-State to win this game?

I’m glad you asked.

1. K-State generally gets better throughout the season when Snyder is at the helm. Very rarely do you ever watch the Wildcats the first game of the season and by the end of the year think they got worse.

2. The momentum that K-State has after beating Oklahoma State and Iowa State to close the season will be big. This team is going to ride this wave to Arizona and still be on that high. It will make a difference.

3. No one has come out and said that Josh Rosen is playing in this game. As I said before, he will be a very high draft pick so I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t play or if is limited or timid just trying not to get hurt.

4. My final reason is probably my most convincing. UCLA has been awful on the road this season, going winless at 0-6. They are a totally different team at home, where they went 6-0. In four of their road losses, they lost by 17 points or more. K-State isn’t the most dominant team on the road, but they did go 3-2, with their two losses coming by a combined 13 points. The Wildcats win will this game and keep the positive vibe going as Snyder returns to coach this team in 2018.

I'm DeAundra Allen, co-editor-in-chief and sports editor at the Collegian. I'm a junior in broadcast journalism and pre-law, with a minor in philosophy. I was born in Brighton, Colorado, home of La Placita and the Bulldogs. I moved to Kansas in 2010, and fell in love with press boxes at a young age. In my spare time, I talk about my pets, sports, and work towards going to law school.