The college bowl schedule kicks off on Saturday, with an ESPN doubleheader of Nevada-Arizona (New Mexico Bowl) and Utah State-Toledo (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), starting at 1 PM ET. It’s definitely a warmup for better matchups down the line, but it’s also the due date for a lot of people—myself included—to get their bowl pool selections in—so we jump in with a look at what to expect tomorrow.
Nevada-Arizona: This is a big mismatch on paper. Nevada’s had a non-descript 7-5 season coming out of the Mountain West. They managed to lose at home to South Florida, a team that just fired its coach, Skip Holtz. Nevada had a narrow escape over Cal, who fired its coach, Jeff Tedford. Within the conference they struggled past New Mexico and needed overtime to beat Wyoming, neither of whom are playing anywhere in the postseason.
The Wolfpack did compete respectably in losses to San Diego State and Boise State, who each shared the league championship with Fresno. But compare that to Arizona—the Wildcats have blowout wins over Oklahoma State and Washington, have beaten USC, beat Toledo, took Stanford to overtime on the road and only lost by a field goal to Oregon State. The only team to beat up on Rich Rodriguez’s team was Oregon—and to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, “Nevada, you’re no Oregon.”
Each team plays a similar style—they’ll try and run the ball, Nevada with Stefphon Jefferson and Arizona with the dynamic Ka’deem Carey. Each plays a high-percentage passing game, with Cody Fajardo and Mike Scott behind center. Fajardo is more versatile—the Nevada quarterback is also an integral part of the running game, but Scott has more weapons, with Austin Hill being the kind of big-play receiver who can break this game open.
If you were going to pick Nevada you’d have to conclude one of two things—that they play a style that will confound Arizona—which is the exact opposite of what’s actually the case. Or that the favorite won’t be motivated. Given that it’s Rich-Rod’s first year, I’m betting he’s hungry to go out on a strong note. That’s why I’ll take Arizona in a blowout.
Outright Winner: Arizona
Point Spread Winner: Arizona (-9)
Over/Under: Over 77.5
Utah State-Toledo: I like Toledo—they played competitively at Arizona and their two MAC losses were also competitive, to a bowl-bound Ball State team and Orange Bowl-bound Northern Illinois. They’ve got a good running back in David Fluellen and Terrance Owens is a nice all-purpose quarterback that did a good job after displacing Austin Dantin to win the starting job. In a lot of bowl situations I’d pick them.
This is not one of them. Utah State was robbed in having to play a game of this low magnitude. Their only losses were by two at Wisconsin (a game where a shanked field goal at the gun cost them the win) and by a field goal to BYU. The Aggies won the WAC by going on the road for their two toughest games in San Jose State and Louisiana Tech. Utah State plays tough defense, and have versatility in the backfield, with Chuckie Keeton able to both run and pass at quarterback and Kerwynn Williams adept both running and catching the ball out of the backfield.
The real question is whether Utah State should be in the BCS. I argued the case for Northern Illinois when the bowl bids came out nearly two weeks ago, but that was in the context of NIU versus the power teams. If you want to shift the discussion of whether a midmajor team earned a spot to which midmajor team earned one, I’d frankly take Utah State.
I don’t see a letdown from the Aggies here. They aren’t a program that’s become so snobbish as not to still relish the chance to compete in their last game of the year, and they also lost a crusher in this same bowl a year ago to Ohio, a game I watched start to finish, read the box score and still can’t figure out how the Aggies lost. There’s no question I’m taking Utah State, and with my bowl pool being a confidence pool, I’m ranking them #35, the top pick on the board. The only question I have is this—why isn’t head coach Gary Anderson on his way to a bigger job? And as a Wisconsin fan who sat and watched the Aggies play in person this past September, I want to know why he hasn’t been made an offer to come to Madison.
Outright Winner: Utah State
Point Spread Winner: Utah State (-10.5)
Over/Under: Over 58.5