Big 12: Jeremy Gallon

Jake WatersMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJake Waters threw three touchdown passes, but his timely rushes kept the Wildcats' offense moving.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Jake Waters was reticent. It was all so easy, but it didn't feel right to admit that. Still, the numbers told a story.

Waters was exceptional, leading a dominant offensive effort for Kansas State in a 31-14 win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He threw three first-half touchdown passes Saturday night, all to Tyler Lockett. Michigan knew what was coming, yet the Wolverines were powerless to stop it.

Yes, Waters had to admit. It was easy.

"When you have a special player like Tyler, any time he's one-on-one, I'm looking for him," Waters said. "I have that confidence in him, because he's such a special player."

Michigan quarterback Shane Morris had a solid enough game, too. The freshman was making his first career start in place of injured Devin Gardner. He hadn't thrown a pass in a game since Nov. 2, but he was sharp. He completed 15 of 19 throws in the first half. He was cool, composed, confident. But unlike Waters, Morris got little help.

When the game was over and the Kansas State crowd cheered for head coach Bill Snyder as the Wildcats accepted the trophy for their first bowl victory in 11 years, Waters wasn't even on the stage. Lockett was the offensive MVP. The defense had dominated. Waters was a supporting player.

When Michigan slumped off the field, owner of a 7-6 record and loser of five of its final six, Morris was at the forefront. Amid a season gone awry, for a program adrift as it stares down a bleak offseason in which so many areas need to improve dramatically, he offered hope.

"Who knows who will be the quarterback next year?" Morris offered when asked about the future -- a 2014 season in which Gardner is slated to return but wholesale changes appear imminent.

All season, Waters split time with Daniel Sams in a two-quarterback system, but he improved, and so did the team. Kansas State rallied from a 2-4 start to finish as one of the nation's hottest teams.

[+] EnlargeShane Morris
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesShane Morris performed admirably in his first career start, giving Michigan hope for the future.
All season, Morris waited in the wings. A former ESPN150 recruit, he threw just nine passes behind Gardner, and Michigan devolved.

Saturday's meeting was a marker for where both programs now stand. Kansas State is poised for 2014, with Waters and Lockett speaking jubilantly about the future. Michigan is at a crossroads, with Morris a lone bright spot in a finale that included a disastrous defensive effort and another lackluster effort from the ground game.

And yet, in the aftermath, the praise for Waters was limited, offered largely as a side note to Lockett's impressive performance. But even Kansas State's players raved about Morris, who threw 38 passes and finished as Michigan's leading rusher.

"Shane held his own," Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon said.

"You would've thought he was doing it five years now," lineman Taylor Lewan said.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke credited his quarterback, too, but found little consolation in the performance. His job now is to decide whether Morris in an answer to one of many problems.

On the other side, Snyder shrugged off his willingness to stick with Waters for the bulk of the game as simply riding the momentum of a hot hand. But it's Waters and Lockett and Snyder who have all the momentum now. As the page turns on the final chapter of 2013 and they look ahead to what's to come, there isn't simply hope and promise in Manhattan, Kan. There is expectation.

"Ending the season 6-1," Lockett said, "it gives us a lot more to look forward to going into next year."

For Michigan, the future might be the baby-faced quarterback who led the offense to just six points before Saturday's final two minutes, but even that remains a question still unresolved.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl preview

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
12:00
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Michigan and Kansas State will face off for the first time in the programs’ histories on Saturday (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. Here are a few key players and matchups to watch.

Who to watch: Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller came up big all season, racking up 11.5 sacks -- the sixth-best tally in the nation. He could add to those numbers Saturday against a shaky Michigan offensive line that allowed the second-most sacks in the Big Ten. In addition, the Wolverines will be starting true freshman Shane Morris at quarterback, and Mueller will be poised to expose any butterflies the young signal-caller might have in his first start. Also keep an eye on Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett, who racked up 1,665 all-purpose yards this season, along with Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon (80 catches, 1,284 yards, nine touchdowns) and cornerback Blake Countess (six interceptions).

What to watch: The matchup at the line of scrimmage should be crucial -- and if Kansas State can rattle Morris early, it could get ugly for the Wolverines. Michigan will want to run the ball and take some of the pressure off the freshman quarterback, but that could be easier said than done: The Wolverines finished second-to-last in the Big Ten in rushing during the regular season. Michigan averaged just 1.6 yards per carry during its final five games, while Kansas State’s defense allowed just one of its final eight opponents to top 125 yards on the ground.

Why to watch: Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner will miss the game with a turf toe injury, meaning Morris will get a chance to lead the offense and give Wolverines fans a glimpse into the future. An ESPN 300 prospect a year ago, Morris threw just nine passes this season. But he appears to be the heir apparent, meaning there’s ample reason for fans to tune in, even if the regular season proved to be something of a disappointment for Michigan.

Prediction: Michigan 27, Kansas State 24. So much of the storyline adds up to a Kansas State victory, but won’t the offseason be so much more interesting if Michigan fans can second-guess waiting so long for Morris to get his chance?

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