This looks like the most physical and highly-contested of all bowl games, with both teams well prepared and motivated. Its an early start for New Years Day, but the game should not disappoint from an entertainment standpoint.
From a betting standpoint, it should be a light play. Tennessee is from the best conference from top to bottom this year (nine Bowl teams), but the Big 12 is always a top conference and Kansas State went to the conference championship game.
Snyder said he trusted his players when they told him they wanted another chance. A victory will give K-State 11 wins for the fourth consecutive season, but there are other reasons the Wildcats embraced an eighth consecutive bowl bid.
"One is many of them were involved in the game in 98 and involved in the Alamo Bowl, and they understand what took place and how it happened," Coach Bill Snyder said. "I think their feeling was this is a different team, one that will respond more favorably to the circumstances."
"A lot of players who are returning just didnt want to go out with the loss and wanted the opportunity to try to finish the season with a win. And I think our seniors saw it as still a chance to finish their careers on a positive note."
The punting game can make a difference in the games outcome. Kansas State has been reminded of that lately. One of Travis Browns punts was blocked in each of the last four games. Problems have arisen across the board. Brown has struggled to get punts off in time. His blocking has suffered breakdowns. The snaps from Neil Gosch have been erratic.
"Normally, when you get one blocked its a problem with the protection," Bill Snyder said. "By and large, that has been the case. He could probably help himself out in some of those cases, but it boils down to protection. That boils down to preparing our players better."
The quarterbacks: Kansas States Jonathan Beasley is 49.8 percent on the year with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 17-10. These arent impressive numbers, but he does rate No. 27 in pass efficiency rating. However Casey Clausen rates No. 11 and has completed 62.4 percent of his passes with a 15-6 ratio.
Tennessee is 6-0 with him as a starter. (It was 3-3 before he started). He passed for more than 200 yards in four of his six starts, but was held to 158 by Vanderbilt (No. 56 defense) and 152 by South Carolina (No. 24). Now he faces Kansas State, No. 10 in pass defense and No. 14 in rush defense. This will be the best overall defense Clausen has faced. The question is, can the pressure get to this true freshman quarterback in this game? He hasnt been rattled yet!
Both defenses: Kansas State played well against primarily throwing teams. (They beat Colorado and Texas Tech, but lost twice to Oklahoma). This defense will present a challenge to Tennessees offense. Tennessee will be hard to run against (No. 3 rush defense), but their pass defense is questionable (No. 69 pass defense).
At times, the team appeared soft. The Vols got pushed around in losses to Georgia and LSU. Although UT closed the season on a six-game winning streak, it wasnt always pretty. Both Memphis and Vanderbilt roughed up the Vols (and both had a chance to win). Now theyll play a team thats more physical than either of these teams they had trouble with. For that reason, its imperative that the Vols have physical workouts to compete with K- State.
Fulmer set a tone in Fridays workouts (12-15) that indicated soft play wont be tolerated. He ran players through the Tennessee Drill, which features heavy one-on-one hitting.
"Whooo, yeah, it was way more intense out there today," freshman defensive tackle Lynn McGruder said. "Coach Fulmer is hyped-up, really intense. Its like a chain reaction, and now everybody is hyped."