The 25th annual Las Vegas Bowl welcomes the San Diego State Aztecs and the Houston Cougars
Matchup: San Diego State (10-3) vs. Houston (9-3)
When: December 17, 2016
Time (TV): 3:30 pm Eastern (ABC)
Where: Whitney, Nevada (Sam Boyd Stadium)
This success of the San Diego State’s run game will be a huge factor in who wins this ball game. The Cougars also have a quarterback that has Heisman level talent and can take over a game with legs just as much as he can with his arm. These two teams have only matched up twice in their history, and that was over 40 years ago. In 1972 San Diego State traveled to Houston and got creamed 49-14. The Aztecs also lost at home the following year 14-9.
San Diego State comes into this game with the No. 7 ranked rushing offense in the country, along with the nation’s second-leading rusher, Donnel Pumphrey. San Diego State will be competing in their seventh straight bowl game after beating Cincinnati in last year’s Hawaii Bowl 42-7.
- Bowl History: 7-7
Key Players: RB Donnel Pumphrey can do it all. He is only 108 yards away from breaking the all-time FBS rushing record held by Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne (6,397). Pumphrey also leads his team in catches, making him just one of four players in the entire country to lead his team in rushing yards and catches. LB Calvin Munson leads the team with 108 tackles while Damontae Kazee leads the team with 7 interceptions (156 INT return yards) to go along with 60 tackles.
Best Game(s): After losing to Wyoming in the 11th week of the season 34-33, the Aztecs got their revenge back in the MWC championship game with a score of 27-24. SDSU controlled the clock, got the Cowboys off the field on third downs, and won the special teams battle.
Worst Game(s): The Aztecs had a tough time in their game against Colorado State (7-5). Pumphrey ran for just 59 yards on 18 carries and allowed nearly 300 yards rushing. San Diego State lost to a 6-6 South Alabama team after falling apart in the fourth quarter.
Keys To Winning: The Las Vegas native, Donnel Pumphrey, will have to be successful against a very good rush defense. If he can rush for over 100 yards, SDSU will have a chance. They will also need to get pressure on Greg Ward Jr. and not just let him have all day to throw.
Let’s just get address the elephant in the room, Tom Herman left for UT. At first I questioned how this team would perform and how this would affect them, but I am now confident that they will come out with a lot of passion and will be ready to play. The main reason I believe they will be ready is because they have already announced their head coach for next year, Major Applewhite, their current offensive coordinator. The Cougars are playing in their fourth consecutive bowl game after winning last year’s Peach Bowl against Florida State.
- Bowl History: 11-12-1
Key Players: DT Ed Oliver won the American Athletic Conference newcomer of the year with 19.5 TFL’s, 61 total tackles, five sacks, and three forced fumbles. He also leads the nation for defensive lineman with nine pass breakups. QB Greg Ward Jr. will play his last game as a Houston Cougar and he will go down as the winningest quarterback in school history.
Best Game(s): Without a doubt, Houston’s two best games were against the Oklahoma Sooners and Louisville Cardinals. They beat the No. 3 ranked Sooners 33-23 in the first week of the season, who ended the season as the Big 12 Conference champs. They also ran the No. 5 ranked Louisville Cardinals right off of the field with a 36-10 win. They held the Heisman winning QB, Lamar Jackson, to just 211 yards passing and 33 yards rushing yards on 25 attempts.
Worst Game(s): The worst game by far was their game against SMU (5-7). Their offense looked terrible and it ended any chance they might have had at getting into the College Football Playoff. Instead of ending the season 10-2 and getting into a major bowl, the Cougars dropped the last game of the season to Memphis, despite a monstrous game by Greg Ward Jr. (over 550 total yards).
Keys To Winning: Greg Ward Jr. needs to bring his pain medicine for when he gets done carrying this team on his back for one last game in his career. He leads the Cougars in passing yards and rushing yards, he is the offense. The nation’s No. 3 ranked rushing defense will have to show up and have a good performance against a very good running back in Donnel Pumphrey.
Prediction: Houston 34 SDSU 31, Greg Ward Jr. will have an outstanding game and lead his team one last time
Las Vegas Bowl History
This will be San Diego State’s second time playing in the Las Vegas Bowl. The first go around didn’t end too well as they lost 20-13 to North Carolina in 1998. Houston has never played in the Las Vegas Bowl, but they do have 24 bowl games of experience under their belt.
Gifts: Gift suite; Oakley backpack; beanie; cap