Mac Stevenson
Kansas State will play their 19th bowl game under Coach Bill Snyder on Tuesday, December 26, against UCLA at the Cactus Bowl in Phoenix. ESPN will televise the game nationwide, with an 8:00 p.m. kickoff.
UCLA’s football team is in a state of flux because of the recent firing of head coach Jim Mora. Chip Kelly was hired on November 25 to replace Mora, but he won’t be the Bruins’ coach during the bowl game. The interim coach for the Cactus Bowl is offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who coached UCLA to a 30-27 win against California in UCLA’s last regular-season game.
Fisch has stated that UCLA won’t make any changes for the bowl game and said, “In regards to preparation, we are playing this game as the 2017 Bruins, not the 2018 Bruins, so all of our focus will be on what we have done, what we’ve built, what we’ve established, and what we’ve done schematically, and what we’ve done defensively over the last six years.”
There are, however, other changes that are disruptive to UCLA’s bowl preparation; linebackers coach Scott White and defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin are no longer with the program and will not be on UCLA’s coaching staff during the Cactus Bowl.
Compounding UCLA’s preparation problems, the status of star QB Jeff Rosen is unknown; he didn’t play in the second half of the Cal game because of an undisclosed injury and his availability for the K-State game is indefinite. Rosen is expected to be one of the top two QBs taken in the next NFL Draft and his not wanting to risk an injury may be a factor in whether or not he plays in the bowl game.
Kansas State should be in good shape physically, but the true state of their injury situation will be unknown before kickoff. QB Skylar Thompson gained momentum and confidence during the last part of the regular season; K-State won four of their last five games. Thompson will be all set for the Cactus Bowl.
K-State finished with a 7-5 record and UCLA was 6-6. Because of the disruptive effect of UCLA’s head coaching change, Kansas State should have an advantage. The early point spreads have the Wildcats favored by 2.5 points. But the Cactus Bowl promises to be a competitive and entertaining football game.
Wichita State’s basketball team had a short stay in the top five of the national rankings; last Saturday the number-three Shockers were drilled by Oklahoma (91-83) in Wichita.
OU stamped themselves as one of the favorites to win the Big 12, with sensational freshman Trae Young (6-2, 170) leading the way with 29 points. And another freshman, Brady Manek, scored 21. Young is leading the nation in scoring and is also averaging just over eight assists per game.
Wichita State’s true status won’t be known until small forward Markis McDuffie (6-8, 212) returns from a foot injury. And Shocker fans shouldn’t expect any miracles from that; McDuffie has missed the entire season so far and it’s going to take some time to knock off the rust.
Kansas snapped a two-game losing streak last Saturday with a 73-72 win against Nebraska in Lincoln. It was an important game. KU didn’t play the stellar caliber of basketball they will need to compete for the Big 12 championship, but they got the win. Before Jayhawk fans clap their hands and think everything is okay, they need to realize that Nebraska is a mediocre team at best.
KU’s defense was better. Coach Self said, “We kind of picked our spots and I thought our activity level was better. We only got eight steals but that’s not a bad number against them. I thought Lagerald [Vick] was more active. Statistically, he didn’t do a ton but he was one of the best players in the game.”
Center Udoka Azubuike played his best game for Kansas, scoring 26 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Not to take anything away from Azubuike, Nebraska’s frontline is lacking in size and talent. The competition will soon be much tougher.
The next week or ten days should tell the tale on whether or not Kansas is going to have freshmen Billy Preston (6-10, 240) and Silvio De Sousa (6-9, 245) on their team this season. Preston has NCAA problems with a car he was driving and De Sousa is trying to graduate from high school early and join KU for the second semester.
If KU has those two players, the Jayhawks will be among the best teams in the nation; without them, it’s going to be a disappointing season by the standard set by Coach Bill Self since he’s been at Kansas.
To one and all: Merry Christmas and a Healthy and Happy New Year!