WHO: No. 24 Iowa State (8-4) vs. No. 13 Iowa State
WHAT: The 26th Alamo Bowl
WHEN: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
THE SKINNY: Mike Leach is back in the Lone Star State.
Years after a contentious divorce from Texas Tech, the Washington State head coach is back and arguably better than ever as he and the Air Raid offense are aiming for win No. 11 against an old Big 12 foe in Iowa State. These aren’t the old Cyclones from Leach’s days in Lubbock however, as Matt Campbell has his team playing as well as just about anybody over the final few months of the season. There are only a handful of marquee matchups outside of the New Year’s Six and this game certainly qualifies as a pair of top 25 teams go at it hoping to close out the year in style.
Naturally, the quarterbacks are the star of the show. Wazzu’s Gardner Minshew II finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting and put together a stellar season as a graduate transfer from East Carolina, throwing for an FBS-leading 4,477 yards during the regular season. His play was a huge reason why the Cougars were in the thick of the Pac-12 title hunt for most of the year and why the signal-caller was an easy pick as the conference’s offensive player of the year. Though his mustache became as trending topic a few times on social media as the season wore on, the QB’s play is really a treat to watch and especially so given how well he spreads the ball around to a ton of different receivers and running backs. Keep an especially close eye on the two dynamic threats in the backfield when Minshew does drop back to pass as James Williams and Max Borghi have combined for over 1,800 total yards and have at least 350 through the air and on the ground.
On the opposite sideline, Brock Purdy has been a revelation for Iowa State ever since taking the reins under center (6-1 as a starter) and sparked the team to back-to-back eight win seasons for the first time since 1977-78. In addition to throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and accounting for 19 touchdowns, the freshman signal-caller has continued to elevate those around him and really helped open things up for star tailback David Montgomery (12 touchdowns rushing) in particular. Wideout Hakeem Butler might be a first round pick in the draft and if this is indeed his last game as a Cyclone, you can bet he’ll want to go out in style with a few more highlight reel catches just up the road from where he played his high school ball.
ISU doesn’t just pack a potent offense though as the team leads the Big 12 in scoring defense and enter the game giving up just 228 yards through the air. Corner Brian Peavy has been stellar in shutting down opposing receivers and defensive end JaQuan Bailey is hoping to move into first place on the school’s all-time sack list by getting to the quarterback at least once down in San Antonio. The Cyclones see versions of Leach’s offense weekly in Big 12 play so they know how to slow the Air Raid attack, which they have a good shot at doing despite the big play potential from Minshew and company.
THE PICK: Iowa State 30, Washington State 27