WHO: No. 25 Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
WHAT: The 26th Las Vegas Bowl
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
THE SKINNY: To say that Oregon and Boise State share a history on the field would be understating things just a bit despite the fact that they’ve played each other just twice. After all, bring up the Ducks to a Broncos fan or vice versa and you’re bound to hear about events from nearly a decade ago when the two played a memorable pair of games for anything but the outcome.
Boise State kicked off a perfect regular season during the first meeting back in 2008, a game best remembered for a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked out then-Ducks starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. College football fans far and wide know all about the rematch a year later, which resulted in a 19-8 victory on the blue turf for the Broncos but is etched into everybody’s minds for LaGarrette Blount punching Byron Hout after the game to ruin Chip Kelly’s debut even further.
Those kinds of games seem like distant memories for both fan bases considering what each side have gone through to get to this point on Saturday.
Boise State enters with their first Mountain West in three years but are not quite the fun, high-scoring team many expected with veteran quarterback Brett Rypien at the controls. The signal-caller has rotated with Kansas transfer Montell Cozart as the offense has resorted to grinding out yards and using second half comebacks instead of scoring at will like in the past. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t explosive however, as wideout Cedrick Wilson is one of the best pass catchers in the region and should find plenty of open space during the game. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch leads the normally stout defense, which has allowed only two 100 yard rushers all season.
On the opposite sideline, Oregon enters on a slightly different note with Mario Cristobal officially coaching his first game as the team’s new head coach. He takes over for Willie Taggart, who left Eugene for the job at Florida State after just a single season at the school. What kind of impact that will have on the Ducks for the game remains to be seen but most of the staff has remained in place to help with bowl preparations so it’s one of the swifter transitions as far as these things go in the postseason.
No matter how fans feel about the new head coach though, chances are good that they’re just happy to have another chance to see what Justin Herbert can do behind center. The quarterback only threw for 1,750 yards and 13 touchdowns this season but suffered a broken collarbone early in the year to derail the team’s hopes of contending in the Pac-12 North. The team went 5-1 in games he started, 2-4 in those he didn’t with a huge drop in points, yards and efficiency. That in turn hurt the productivity of the defense, which is led by linebacker Troy Dye and has still made huge strides from where they were a year ago. Also notable is the team’s best player — running back Royce Freeman — is opting to skip the bowl in order to prepare for the 2018 NFL Draft.
A lot of those factors would have you lean in the direction of the Broncos given the fact that they won the conference title just a few weeks ago and have the kind of defense that could give the Pac-12 power problems running the ball. Cristobal will have the Ducks fired up and ready for this kind of challenge however, and the return of Herbert has made this a completely different — and dangerous — team in their final two games of 2017. Something says the quarterback will be able to use a big performance against the Broncos on Saturday to parlay himself into being a Heisman favorite next season and end the year on a good note for Oregon with a bowl victory.
THE PICK: Oregon 38, Boise State 27