KANSAS STATE WILDCATS (7-5)
at UCLA BRUINS (6-6)
Chase Field – Phoenix, AZ
Kickoff: Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET
Line: Kansas State -2.5, Total: 63.5
UPDATE (12/24): JOSH ROSEN TO MISS CACTUS BOWL
Tuesday could be Josh Rosen's last game in a UCLA uniform.
It was, no doubt, a disappointing season for the UCLA football team. With potential No. 1 overall NFL Draft selection QB Josh Rosen behind center for likely the last time, the team failed to get any real momentum throughout the season. They only won two games in a row once, to start the year, and finished .500 and 4-5 in Pac-12 play. But they haven't given up down the stretch, and are 2-1 in their last three and only lost by five to Cotton Bowl-bound USC. They only just gained bowl eligibility with a 30-27 win over Cal in the final week of the season, and as a reward are making the short trip to Phoenix for a Cactus Bowl showdown with Kansas State. After coach Jim Mora was let go, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was named interim head coach. As for the Wildcats, coach Bill Snyder's team finished in its usual six-to-nine-win range at 7-5, with its two biggest wins—Oklahoma State and Iowa State—coming in its final two games. Throughout the latter half of the season the team also posted near-upsets over Oklahoma and West Virginia. In his current tenure as head coach of KSU, Snyder is 14-3 ATS when the Cats have won four out of their last five and 28-14 ATS against teams averaging less than 7.5 yards per punt return. Since 1992, non-conference games involving two teams with a differential between -0.6 yards per play and +0.6 yards per play are 42-14 Over against totals between 63.5 and 70.
While Rosen was unsuccessful in lifting UCLA to a winning record in the regular season, he did play well enough to keep himself in that conversation of top quarterback prospects for the pros. A particular bright spot came in mid-November in the Battle for Los Angeles, when his big night nearly helped the Bruins pull the upset as two-touchdown underdogs. He completed 32 of 52 passes for 421 yards, three touchdowns and a pick in the 28-23 loss. A week later he was 13-of-18 for 202 yards and two scores at halftime, but was pulled from the game at the break due to a neck/shoulder injury he sustained in the first half. All signs point to him being at full health for the Cactus Bowl, which will take place over a month later. Rosen has a strong receiving corps at his disposal, most notably WR Jordan Lasley, who has exploded as of late. He has over 1,100 yards this year despite playing in only eight games, and in his last three he has 29 total catches for 593 yards and five touchdowns. WR Darren Andrews was Rosen's No. 2 target, but he was lost for the season early in November. WR Theo Howard had 11 catches for 81 yards against USC. The running game was second-to-last in the Pac-12 this season with 120.3 yards per game, so don't expect a ground explosion from the Bruins in Phoenix. Sophomore RB Brandon Stephens nearly matched his season total for carries when he got 20 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown against Cal, and he also had three catches for 35 yards. Usage that heavy suggests he'll be the lead back again against the Wildcats, but RBs Bolu Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo are also in the mix.
In the air-it-out environment of the Big 12, Kansas State stands out as a team that prioritizes its run game over passing the ball—it was second to only Oklahoma in the conference with 186.7 rushing yards per game. It's done by committee, largely, with lead RB Alex Barnes only having rushed for 702 yards and six touchdowns on the year, although having done so impressively on only 134 carries. RBs Dalvin Warmack (249 yards) and Justin Simon (212 yards) each had more yards against Iowa State, though, so it's not a clear picture back there. It's good that Kansas State can typically run the ball, though, because the quarterback situation is a mess thanks to injuries. QB Jesse Ertz was the starter to begin the year, but he was lost for the season after five games. QB Alex Delton then took over before suffering a first-half injury against Texas Tech on November 4. It now seems like freshman QB Skyler Thompson is the guy, especially after he led the team to wins against OKSt and ISU. He was extremely efficient against the Cowboys, completing 10 of 13 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns, and he also led the team with 93 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground. And while he wasn't dominant against the Cyclones, he was clutch with a literal last-second touchdown pass to complete a comeback victory. WR Byron Pringle is the No. 1 wideout in Manhattan, and he caught 166 of Thompson's 204 passing yards against Oklahoma State and all three of his touchdowns.