WHO: Houston (9-3) vs. San Diego State (10-3)
WHAT: The 25th Las Vegas Bowl
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
THE SKINNY: The Las Vegas Bowl may be the scene for one of the top bowl games in the month of December considering some of the talent to be put on display. Mountain West Conference champion San Diego State rides into their second Las Vegas Bowl on the strength of star running back Donnel Pumphrey, while Houston comes in with Major Applewhite making his head coaching debut with players like quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and All-American freshman defensive lineman Ed Oliver to count on.
Truth be told, the Las Vegas Bowl is a far cry from the New Year’s Six hopes both Houston and San Diego State had for much of the season. Houston padded their profile with a pair of victories over top five teams this season, Oklahoma and Louisville, but stumbled three times in the American Athletic Conference to fall out of contention for a second straight conference title and blocking their chance of a return to the New Years Six bowl lineup. For a program that started the season being discussed as a potential College Football Playoff contender, playing in the Las Vegas Bowl is clearly not where the Cougars wanted to be. San Diego State was in the mix for the New Year’s Six for a while as well until a blowout loss in the regular season finale all but knocked the Aztecs out of the running even if Western Michigan (who will play Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl) had stumbled.
The Las Vegas Bowl will offer a contrast in offensive styles. San Diego State owns the nation’s seventh-most productive rushing offense with Pumphrey being one of just two players to rush for 2,000 yards this season (2,018 rushing yards; D’Onta Foreman of Texas being the other with 2,028 rushing yards). Pumphrey should end the season as the nation’s leading rusher as he trails Foreman by just 10 yards entering the Las Vegas Bowl. Houston will be more likely to take to the air with Ward Jr. having already passed for 3,328 yards and 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions this season. Although Tom Herman has left Houston for Texas, it should be expected new head coach Applewhite will continue the same offensive philosophies he used as offensive coordinator. Houston’s passing game will look to avoid making turnovers against a San Diego State defense that leads the nation with 22 interceptions.
This one should be good. You will want to make sure you are watching the final game played by Pumphrey and Ward Jr.
THE PREDICTION: Houston 32, San Diego State 29