Kansas State is headed to Memphis, Tenn.
The Liberty Bowl picked K-State to play in its game, which will be played at 2:45 p.m. Dec. 31. It will face Navy, an at-large selection because the SEC, the bowl’s other conference tie-in, didn’t have enough eligible teams to fill the slot.
The Wildcats, who finished 8-4 in their first regular season under new head coach Chris Klieman, officially accepted the bid Sunday.
“I am really proud of our team, especially our seniors, and our staff for continuing to work hard day after day and collectively getting better throughout the season,” Klieman said in a release. “The story of the 2019 Wildcats still has one game left, and we look forward to spending the holidays in Memphis and preparing for a great Navy team in what will be an exciting Liberty Bowl.”
K-State athletics director Gene Taylor congratulated Klieman, his staff and the team “on a great regular season,” which has the Wildcats back in a bowl after a one-year hiatus.
“We look forward to showcasing our football program and Kansas State University in the Liberty Bowl,” Taylor said, “and I know our fans are excited to show their outstanding support in Memphis while our football student-athletes, coaches and staff are provided a great experience.”
It will mark K-State’s second appearance in the Liberty Bowl. The Wildcats hope it ends better than the first time around, when they fell to Arkansas 45-23 on Jan. 2, 2016.
It is K-State’s 22nd bowl appearance overall. The Wildcats have won back-to-back bowl games — the 2017 Cactus Bowl and the 2016 Texas Bowl — and if they beat the Midshipmen, they will have their first three-game bowl win streak in program history.
K-State was picked to finish ninth in the 10-team Big 12 in the preseason poll. The Wildcats turned that prediction on its head, going 5-4 in league play to end in a four-way tie for third along with Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas. The six-spot jump over the preseason prognostication is the best by a Big 12 team since TCU in 2014.
The Wildcats started this fall 3-0, beating Nicholls and Bowling Green at home before heading on the road and topping Mississippi State. After back-to-back defeats (Oklahoma State and Baylor), K-State ripped off another three-game win streak, which included a victory over then-No. 5 Oklahoma.
It is the only loss suffered by any of the four teams in the College Football Playoff, as No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson are 13-0; the Sooners are 12-1 after edging Baylor in overtime in Saturday’s Big 12 championship game.
A week later, K-State dominated in-state rival Kansas in a 38-10 road victory Nov. 2.
The victory over the Sooners was the Wildcats’ first over a top-five team in 13 seasons, and the first over OU in Manhattan since 1996. K-State’s triumph in Lawrence was its 11th straight in the Sunflower Showdown, tying the longest streak in the history of the series by either team — its own record, winning every meeting from 1993 to 2003.
After that victory over KU, K-State sat at 6-2. It then dropped narrow decisions against Texas (30-27 on a last-second field goal by the Longhorns) and West Virginia. But the Wildcats bounced back once more, ending the regular season with wins at Texas Tech (30-27) and at home against Iowa State (27-17).
K-State’s bowl foe isn’t done with its regular season, however. Navy will play Army in Philadelphia on Saturday. The Midshipmen enter the week with a 9-2 record, finishing No. 24 in the final College Football Playoff rankings.
A member of the American Athletic Conference, Navy posted a 7-1 mark in league play to tie for first in the West Division.
The Liberty Bowl will be the first-ever matchup between K-State and Navy.
K-State holds a 3-2 all-time record against service academies, going 3-0 against Air Force and 0-2 against Army.