Big 12: Taylor Lewan

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.
Get your popcorn ready. Or, if you're trying to get that New Year's resolution off to an early start, get your veggie plate ready. Either way, Big 12 bowl season brings some fun matchups to watch in the next week or so.

Here's a matchup to keep an eye on during every bowl matchup involving a Big 12 team.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller vs. Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
Mueller was one of the most productive defenders in the Big 12 this season while bringing energy and effort to the Wildcats' defense. He finished with 61 tackles, including 18.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Lewan has been a dominating force at left tackle for Michigan for the past four seasons. He is slated to start his 48th game in this bowl and is projected to be an NFL first-round draft pick. If Mueller is able to win some individual battles with Lewan it will make life a lot harder on Michigan's true freshman quarterback, Shane Morris.

Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Texas WR Mike Davis vs. Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
It should be fun to watch these two battle in San Antonio. Ekpre-Olomu is an elite talent, a cover cornerback who will play on Sundays someday. Davis shows flashes of big-play ability and has the talent to test Ekpre-Olomu throughout the game. This matchup gives Davis the opportunity to prove himself against top competition. If he wins some of those battles it would help the Longhorns' offense be balanced and take some pressure off UT quarterback Case McCoy.

National University Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro vs. Arizona State secondary
Amaro creates problems for every defense he faces, and ASU will be no different. The Red Raiders' top receiving threat finished with 98 catches for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns. But the Sun Devils are well-equipped to throw several different defensive backs at Amaro, with Alden Darby, Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor earning first- or second-team All-Pac 12 honors this season. It will be interesting to see if Amaro can continue to excel against a strong Sun Devils secondary.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Baylor S Ahmad Dixon vs. UCF QB Blake Bortles
Bortles could test Dixon and the Bears better than any quarterback they've faced this season. Dixon's forte' is his ability to help out in the run game, so the matchup against UCF provides an opportunity to prove his prowess in the passing game. Bortles, a junior, is the reigning American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year and a projected first-round NFL draft pick if he elects to leave school early.

Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ESPN)

Oklahoma OL vs. Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
The Sooners' offensive line has been outstanding this season, paving the way for OU to average 235.83 rushing yards per game. Mosley has the talent to single-handedly become a nightmare for OU's offense. He could dominate the game with his ability to make plays all over the field and stop the Oklahoma running game. And if that happens, OU's chances of winning could fall off the cliff, because if the Sooners can't run the ball against the Crimson Tide, they won't win.

AT&T Cotton Bowl (Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert vs. Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham
This is the highlight matchup of the Big 12's bowl season. Gilbert is a future NFL cornerback, and DGB is a future NFL receiver. And both had strong seasons. Green-Beckham brings a size/skill/speed ratio unlike anything Gilbert has seen in the Big 12, while Gilbert brings athleticism, speed and experience that will test the Tigers sophomore receiver. Neither player will back down, and both will win their share of one-on-one battles. It's a late holiday gift for everyone who watches.

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