As the 2002 regular season wraps up, the annual debates about which teams belong in which bowl games have surfaced, as we head towards this year's Bowl Game Bonanza.
Two schools that undoubtedly earned their bowl bids are Kansas State and Colorado, the two most likely opponents for Wisconsin in the Alamo Bowl. Here is a look at two potential UW bowl opponents:
Despite starting the season with a dismal 1-2 record, the Colorado Buffaloes (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) have regrouped and now find themselves atop the Big 12 Conference.
After winning eight of its last nine contests, Colorado (9-3 overall, 7-1 Big 12) travels to Houston next weekend to battle the Oklahoma Sooners for the conference crown, representing the Big 12's North Division.
"We weren't fancy or pretty this season," Coach Gary Barnett said. "We just played hard and found a way to get the job done."
Barnett and his Buffs must have found a really good way to get the job done, as they beat the likes of Iowa State, Kansas State, and Nebraska. The Buffs' victory over Nebraska Friday afternoon denied the Cornhuskers a chance to extend their unprecedented streak of nine-victory seasons to 34.
Leading the conference in rushing and scoring, junior running back Chris Brown has amassed 1,744 yards thus far with a blistering 6.3 yards per carry average. His agility and speed make him a threat every time he touches the ball, as evidence by his 18 touchdowns. Barnett recruited the Illinois native during his tenure at Northwestern and last season rejoined Barnett at Colorado.
"He's got that burst that he didn't have a year ago,'' Barnett said. "When he gets to the hole, he just sort of explodes. It's made him into a really good back right now. There probably aren't many who are much better.''
Although Brown is the leading monster in the Buffs' rushing attack, Colorado also possesses several other runners capable of picking up the slack when needed, including junior Bobby Purify and freshman Brian Calhoun, an Oak Creek native who was heavily recruited by Wisconsin..
As the offense continues to develop, it's clear the Buffs' defense continues to accept added pressure. The defense will have to maintain its dominance and persist to force opponents to turn the ball over. Colorado's success this season has often hinged on its turnover differential. In all three of their losses, the Buffs have coughed the ball up more than their opponent.
As Colorado looks to be headed for an Alamo Bowl showdown with Wisconsin, the Buffs still have a chance to improve their postseason position and confuse the positions of others.
"We had to reinstate ourselves after Southern Cal., and we did," Barnett said. "We turned the ball over and we knew we could not do that to win. You've got to give the kids credit. We knew we had to dig ourselves out of a hole and these kids did it."
Kansas State Wildcats
"Glory into combat for the purple and white. Faithful to our colors, we shall ever be, fighting ever fighting for a Wildcat Victory!" These glorious words of Wildcats fans have been the staple for cheers since 1888, but have only been truly meaningful over the past few years.
Ranked eighth in the ESPN and AP polls and tenth in the Bowl Championship Series standings, Kansas State has amassed another impressive 10 victories this season, marking the fifth time in the last six seasons they've reached that mark, and the seventh time in school history.
Even more impressive is the fact this team won the Big 12 Conference among the likes of Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, Iowa State and Nebraska, easily one of the most talented, deep conferences in the nation.
Under the direction of Coach Bill Snyder, the Wildcats have exceeded all expectations and propelled themselves into the BCS picture again this season.
"When you look at the statistics, it's the best it's ever been," Assistant Coach Paul Dunn said. "You've got to take your hat off to guys like Ell (Roberson) and (Darren) Sproles and the guys that are blocking for them, fullbacks, Travis Wilson, Aya Saba, Victor Mann, Nick Hoheisel. Those are the guys that go unnoticed. From a statistics standpoint, it's right up there with one of the best teams that we have ever had."
With a balanced attack on both sides of the ball, the Wildcats' success over recent years is a tribute to its mastery of fundamentals and emphasis on teamwork.
"It's a total team effort," Dunn said. "I think that some of our guys get into some of our team records. They were obviously into having Darren (Sproles) break the seven straight (100-yard games)."
Sophomore running back Darren Sproles, a Kansas native, leads the team in rushing and is third in the Big Twelve with 1,347 yards. But his streak of 100-yard rushing games is what has propelled him into the national spotlight.
After the Nov. 23 game with Missouri, Sproles tallied his eighth straight 100-yard game and ninth for the year, extending his school record. In that same game, Sproles also set the single season school record for all-purpose yards with 1,656, breaking the mark established by Henry Hawthorne in 1970.
"He's a very humble young man and he puts all of the credit onto the offensive line," Dunn states. "He knows the importance of teamwork and everyone blocking and playing together. So that was good for those guys (offensive line) to be a part of that."
Kansas State finished the season on fire, outscoring its last five opponents 253-30, including wins over Iowa State and Nebraska.
The Wildcats are out of the Big 12 Championship race, but that should not undermine the success of the season for Coach Bill Snyder's group. Coming out of the Big 12 Conference season with a postseason invitation is enough of a reward, particularly with a trip to San Diego on the horizon.
As the team prepares for a likely rematch with USC at the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, the Wildcats hope they will continue their hot streak with a bowl victory. But the layoff between the regular season and the Dec. 27 bowl game poses a concern for the Wildcats staff.
"I think first and foremost (we're) trying to get ourselves back to where we finished the season," Snyder said. "If you have any type of layoff, there is going to be a lull period and the intensity in which you practice is not the same. We have to build along those lines and try to become a good practice team again. Then we will focus on fundamentals and trying to develop the players to have a better understanding of the positions that they play as an entirety of an offense or defense. Then we will get into preparations for whoever an opponent might be for us."
A Glance at Potential Alamo Bowl Opponents
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