2016 Las Vegas Bowl Preview
This Saturday will mark the first day of the College Football Bowl Season for 2016. Out of the marathon of the five bowl games that will take place, the showdown in Sin City between the Houston Cougars and San Diego State Aztecs looks to be a good one.
Las Vegas Bowl
When: Saturday, December 17th, 3:30pm EST
Where: Las Vegas, Nevada
It feels like YEARS since Labor Day weekend as Houston upset #3 Oklahoma to set the tone for the entire season. It was quite an interesting year for the Cougars. Even with the win against Oklahoma and another upset against Louisville later that season, Coach Tom Herman’s squad couldn’t seem to be able to win favorable games between conference opponents in the AAC. Losses to Navy, SMU, and Memphis destroyed their chance of any opportunity for a run at the College Football Playoff. After defeating Florida State in the Peach Bowl last season, Houston started having major expectations for 2016. Unfortunately, this season didn’t live up to the hope. Houston ended up finishing 3rd in the AAC West Division due to a 5-3 conference record. That still did not affect Herman’s status in many coaching searches. Herman accepted the head coaching position at Texas shortly after their final regular season game against Memphis. Offensive Coordinator Major Applewhite has taken over as Houston’s new head coach.
The Aztecs also endured a season of “What could have been?” as well. Although they still won the Mountain West Conference, head coach Rocky Long’s squad had aspirations to make it to a New Year’s Six Bowl this season. Things started off well with a 3-0 start until they got beaten up by South Alabama. San Diego State won six more games in a row after enduring that defeat only to face two more unfortunate losses between Wyoming and Colorado State. The team was still able to win a very weak MWC West Division, which set up a rematch with Wyoming in the MWC Conference Title Game. Led by the rushing attack of Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny, the Aztecs went on to beat Wyoming 27-24 and win the Mountain West Conference Title.
Top Impact Player on Houston’s Offense
-Greg Ward Jr. (Quarterback, 5-11, 185 lbs, SR) (3,328 Passing Yards, 22 Touchdowns, 9 Interceptions, 518 Rushing Yards, 9 Rushing Touchdowns)
Although his numbers weren’t as eye-popping as they were in 2015, Greg Ward Jr. still remained one of the top quarterbacks in college football. Not only does he excel in Herman’s offense, but he carries everyone around the offense as well. He also had two huge wins between two Heisman finalists in Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield. Jackson still won the Heisman weeks after being outperformed by Ward. This will be Ward’s last game as a quarterback as he plans to pursue his future in the NFL as a wide receiver due to being undersized for QB as a pro prospect. Undoubtedly, he’ll still plan to light up the scoreboard this Saturday.
Top Impact Player on Houston’s Defense
-Steven Taylor (Linebacker, 6-1, 225 lbs, SR) (72 Tackles, 8.5 Sacks, 1 Interception, 1 Defensive Touchdown, 2 Forced Fumbles)
Greg Ward Jr. might have outperformed both Jackson and Mayfield, but it was Steven Taylor and the Houston defense that stopped them. After compiling 92 tackles, 10 sacks, and 2 interceptions in 2015, Taylor still put up respectable statistics this season and even had his best games against tougher competition. He had 5 tackles and 2 sacks against Oklahoma and 14 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in the epic upset over Louisville late in the season. His best play of the year was a game-sealing 74-yard pick six against Cincinnati earlier in the year. Expect Taylor to be keying on Pumphrey all game.
Top Impact Player on San Diego State’s Offense
-Donnel Pumphrey (Running Back, 5-9, 180 lbs, SR) (2,018 Rushing Yards, 16 Rushing Touchdowns)
Ron Dayne, the NCAA all-time leading rusher, closed out his career at Wisconsin with 6,397 yards. Pumphrey is about 108 yards from surpassing Dayne’s record as he currently has a rushing total of 6,290 yards for his career so far. Assuming that he runs for over 108 yards, Pumphrey has an opportunity to make history Saturday afternoon. Regardless of how well he plays against Houston, he still closed out the regular season as one of the top three rushers of all time. Pumphrey is also already an exclusive member of the 6,000-yard club, an honor that includes Dayne, Ricky Williams, Tony Dorsett, Charles White, and DeAngelo Williams. Not a bad group of players to be listed with. Pumphrey will be looking forward to making the top of the list on Saturday.
Top Impact Player on San Diego State’s Defense
-Damontae Kazee (Cornerback, 5-11, 190 lbs, SR) (62 Tackles, 7 Interceptions, 1 Defensive Touchdown, 8 Pass Deflections, 1 Forced Fumble)
Damonte Kazee declared for the 2016 NFL Draft shortly after the end of last season. He changed his mind a few weeks later and it was a good thing he did. Kazee has been outstanding on defense this year for the Aztecs and is tied for 2nd in the nation among leaders in interceptions with Colorado’s Tedric Thompson. West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas and Florida State’s Tarvarus McFadden are ahead of them with 8 interceptions respectively. His top performance may have been just two weeks ago against Wyoming. He had 6 tackles and 2 interceptions in that game to help the Aztecs win the MWC title. Kazee is a ball-hawk in San Diego State’s secondary and will be looking to give Greg Ward Jr and the Houston offense problems over the course of the game.
Houston has proven themselves in big games this year, but have had some unusual loses as well. San Diego State, despite having the possible NCAA all-time leading rusher in Pumphrey, haven’t been able to gain much national recognition as a squad due to the successes of both Houston and undefeated MAC Champion Western Michigan headlining the “Group of Five”. I expect San Diego State to show up big in this match-up against Houston this Saturday afternoon, but, Houston has proven themselves in big games.
Houston 28, San Diego State 24