Michigan and Kansas State enter tonight's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl with identical 7-5 records. But the path to those marks was strikingly different.
The Wolverines opened with five straight victories, including a triumph against Notre Dame in Week 2. They stumbled to the finish, though, dropping five of their final seven, including a one-point loss to rival Ohio State in the regular-season finale.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, started slowly. Coach Bill Snyder's squad opened the campaign by falling to FCS school North Dakota State at home. Three losses over the next five games followed. But after kicking its offense into high gear, Kansas State won five of its final six to become bowl eligible and earn a berth in tonight's tilt in the desert in Tempe, Ariz.
Quarterback Shane Morris will guide Michigan’s offense tonight in place of injured Devin Gardner.
All of Kansas State's losses were by 10 points or less, and the Wildcats held fourth-quarter leads in three of those games.
''I don't recall going into a ballgame, or a bowl game for that matter, that we didn't desperately want to win,'' Snyder said. ''I want to win, they want to win, everyone wants to win, and everyone works hard to do so.
''That is just what you do, and we are not different than any other team in the country.''
During Michigan's loss to Ohio State, quarterback Devin Gardner hurt his toe. Gardner, who's thrown for more than 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns the past two seasons, aggravated the injury last week and won't play tonight. In his place will be freshman Shane Morris.
''He's had really good preparation,'' Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke said. ''We tried to see if Devin could go, and it just wasn't possible.
''Snap-wise, Shane has taken a lot of snaps between him and Russell Bellomy. He's done a tremendous job. I know his teammates have supported him. So we're excited about that.''
Morris has thrown nine passes this season. He played only four games as a high school senior because of mononucleosis.
Hoke said Morris has grown as the season has progressed.
''I think his poise, I think his fundamentals with his feet,'' Hoke said of the biggest developments. ''I think the play-action game with the ball fakes and all that. He's always had a pretty good arm. Accuracy has been very, very good.''
So does that mean Hoke will scale back the offensive gameplan?
''You start off with a pretty good package,'' Hoke said. ''But then you also want to emphasize and do things that your kids can be successful with. We've scaled some things back. But there's a lot of offense in there still.''
Morris has a talented receiving corps at his disposal, led by fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon. Through 12 games, Gallon has 1,284 receiving yards. He needs 47 tonight to surpass Braylon Edwards for the program single-season record.
''He's everything they indicate he is,'' Snyder said. ''He runs, he catches, it, he's got some 80 catches, and he's not just a speed guy - he is a speed guy that has finesse and movement about him.''
Gallon said the chemistry between he and Morris has been great.
''He's been connecting with the receivers, the running backs, building a stronger chemistry with the O-line,'' Gallon said. ''There's nothing new about him. I feel like he's been here forever.''
After losing Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein to graduation, Kansas State replaced him with a two-their system of junior Jake Waters and sophomore Daniel Sams. Waters, a thrower, has 2,198 yards passing and 15 TDs, while Sams has rushed for 784 yards and 11 scores.
''Waters is a guy who probably gets short-selled a little bit on the athlete that he is,'' Hoke said. ''He's a good athlete who can run with the football also. But he's a guy they seem to be more comfortable with throwing the football.
''And Sams is a guy who is very athletic. He's like a tailback in there and will throw the ball, but most of the time they like to run it with him.''
The Wildcats also have all-Big 12 first team receiver Tyler Lockett, who paced the conference in all-purpose yards (151.4 per game) during the regular season.
''He's a guy who gets behind people in a lot of cases,'' Hoke said. ''Runs good routes. The comebacks they like, does a nice job of that. The timing between the quarterbacks and him, you can tell there's been a lot of work in it is off-season done.''
Tonight's game is the first meeting between the two programs.