Houston (9-3) vs San Diego State (10-3)
When: Saturday, December 17th 2016
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
Time: 3:30 ET | TV: ABC
Two accomplished seniors will play their final collegiate game when the Houston Cougars and San Diego State Aztecs battle in this year’s Las Vegas Bowl. Houston’s Greg Ward, Jr. and San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey are sure to get a shot at the NFL after leading their teams to another bowl game. Pumphrey (6,290 yards) sits 108 yards away from surpassing Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne (6,397) as the all-time leading career rusher in FBS history, but not without some controversy. The NCAA didn’t recognize bowl statistics during Dayne’s career from 1996-99, otherwise Dayne’s yardage total is 7,125. Pumphrey rushed for 2,018 yards in the regular season but figures to be tested by the Cougars, who rank third nationally in rushing defense (97.9 yards per game) and allow just 2.9 yards per carry. The Aztecs have won 11 games three times in their history and this year’s team focuses on the running game led by Pumphrey and junior Rashaad Penny (995 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns). Pumphrey rushed for 16 touchdowns while setting numerous records held by school legend Marshall Faulk and Penny averaged 7.9 yards per carry running the ball as well as averaging 31.9 yards and scoring two touchdowns on kickoff returns. Sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman (19 touchdowns, six interceptions) has had a solid season in a role that doesn’t require much pressure. The defense is led by senior cornerback Damontae Kazee (seven interceptions this season, school-record 17 in his career) and senior outside linebacker Calvin Munson (team-best 108 tackles).
Ward is playing the final game of his spectacular career and ranks fifth in school history in both passing touchdowns (52) and passing yardage (8,476). The senior accounted for 31 touchdowns (22 passing, nine rushing) this season while throwing for 3,328 yards and rushing for 518. His health is something to watch as Ward has been dealing with shoulder soreness for most of the season. Ward could improve on his 38 career rushing touchdowns in this game as well if his arm isn’t up to the task. Ward leads an attack that averages 38 points per game and junior receiver Linell Bonner caught 93 passes for 1,076 yards but only found the end zone three times. The Cougars’ best player is freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who posted 19.5 tackles for losses (including five sacks) but is dealing with an injured knee that could effect his play. Sophomore cornerback Howard Wilson intercepted a team-best five passes while senior outside linebacker Steven Taylor had a team-best 72 tackles for the unit run by interim head coash Todd Orlando, who took over for the departed Tom Herman last week. Herman left to become the new head man at Texas, which had been widely speculated. Houston will be looking for their third consecutive Bowl victory.
This should be one of the better Bowl games this season and it starts on day one. San Diego State’s defense struggled down the stretch and Houston came up big against stiff competition this season, beating both Oklahoma and Louisville. I’ll lay the points in this one and predict a seven point Houston victory.
Pick: Houston -3.5