The Kansas State football team is headed to the Cactus Bowl for a postseason game against UCLA next month.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. Dec. 26 at Chase Field in Phoenix.
The trip will take K-State coach Bill Snyder back to his bowl roots, while also providing a new experience for players and fans. Though the Wildcats have made six previous trips to the Arizona desert for bowl games, including Snyder’s first bowl appearance in the 1993 Copper Bowl, they have never played in the recently named Cactus Bowl.
Unlike four years ago, when they made an appearance in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium, this game will be played in a reconfigured baseball stadium. Chase Field is home for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“The opportunity to be once again in the desert is something our players and people who travel with us, our staff and families, have always enjoyed,” Snyder said. “We certainly will enjoy our time there. All the opportunities provided to us through bowl games have been very good for our program. We look forward to returning.”
The Wildcats are making their eighth consecutive trip to a bowl. They qualified for the postseason this year by finishing fourth in the Big 12 with a 7-5 record.
UCLA finished fourth in the Pac-12 with a record of 6-6.
They took different paths to this point.
K-State entered the year with a preseason ranking and expected to compete for a Big 12 championship. A 3-4 start that included quarterback injuries and other obstacles put that out of reach, but a 4-1 finish sent them into the postseason with momentum.
UCLA started out with mild expectations, but gained national attention by defeating Texas A&M in wild come-from-behind fashion on opening weekend. With start quarterback Josh Rosen leading the way, the Bruins also entered the national polls. But they played so poorly down the stretch that the Bruins fired coach Jim Mora and replaced him with Chip Kelly.
Interim head coach Jedd Fisch will lead UCLA in the Cactus Bowl, while Kelly watches from afar.
“Our players and coaches have been though a lot these last few weeks,” Fisch said. “To be able to reunite as a Bruin football family and go compete in this game is really exciting for us.”
UCLA and K-State last played three seasons ago in Alamo Bowl, a game the Bruins won with the Bruins won 40-35. UCLA jumped out to a huge lead that night, and K-State nearly came all the way back. It ended in bizarre fashion, with Mora sharing some choice words with Snyder during their postgame handshake after K-State players tried to force a fumble as the Bruins took a knee on their final series.
Snyder said he has not watched UCLA since that game, and had little to say about the Bruins on Sunday, other than he expects them to be “a formidable opponent.”
K-State was off last week and will begin bowl preparations in the coming days.
Fans can purchase tickets to the Cactus Bowl in the official K-State cheering section directly from the school through its athletic website. Athletic director Gene Taylor said the school has a ticket allotment of 6,000, and they have already sold about half. Fans can purchase tickets in other areas through the bowl.
“It should be a good trip with warm weather over the holidays,” Taylor said. “Coach is excited about it. He kind of wanted to go to Arizona. UCLA is a good matchup. I think our fans will travel. It should be a great game.”