A long time ago in a galaxy ...
...whoops, wrong article.
Many of you will appreciate the deliciousness of having both the first Saturday of Bowl Season and the first Saturday of Star Wars happening on the same day. It's "Screen-time Palooza" for dads and geeks all over the country. I pity the households where Mom is also a dual Star Wars/College Football fan. Young children might not get much attention today.
There is a full lineup of twelve bowl games in this week leading up to Christmas Day, including five bowl games today. Here is today's full lineup.
It's a curious schedule having the two premiere games going, both of which are featuring PAC 12 teams, overlapping each other with neither of them showing up as the prime time game. Nevertheless, it is football. And football is good.
Let's preview the two PAC 12 teams going today.
Las Vegas Bowl: BYU vs #22 Utah Utes
Utah is the only ranked team playing on this last full Saturday before Christmas. Fans of the Utes have been bemoaning their apparent demotion to the "6th place Bowl" in the PAC 12 and lamenting the misfortune of having to play a post season exhibition against their oldest and most bitter foe.
Still, the Las Vegas Bowl is the marquee matchup of the day and one that ought to shed light on one of the most compelling but least understood rivalries in all of college football.
BYU enters this one surrounded by drama. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall is a BYU institution who has coached in Provo for ten seasons but who will be leaving to take the lead job at Virginia starting tomorrow. Despite his move, he remains a beloved figure to his players who, to a man, seem to understand the legacy and the motivation of their head coach.
On the field, the Cougars (9-3) have shown an ability to maximize what has otherwise been a down year for them from a talent perspective. Freshman QB Tanner Magnum has been the star of the offense since taking over for an injured Taysom Hill. Magnum has been anything but "freshman-like" on the field, showing judgment and efficiency that you'd expect to see in an upperclassmen. His stats are good: 62%, 21 TDs, 7 INTs, 8 YPA, 3,062 total yards. But the BYU offense hasn't been very explosive for much of the year and it has been prone to giving up negative plays in the form of sacks and TFLs.
Fortunately, their opponent is just as inept on offense. The Utes are led by QB Travis Wilson and backup RB Joe Williams. Wilson has been consistently inconsistent throughout the season. He has posted big games against premier foes, such as Oregon, only to get rocked and come back to earth against lesser ones. This will be his last game as a senior before he gives way to former UW quarterback Troy Williams in 2016.
The story of this one will be Utah's defense. They are the best unit on the field with stars like DE Hunter Dimick, DT Lowell Lotuleilei, and LB Jared Norris all in positions to dominate their matchups against the Cougs. If they can pressure the pocket enough to induce a mistake or two out of the Cougar offense, it might be all that the Utes need to win this strange edition of the Holy War.
If you were to go strictly by the numbers, the Utes ought to win this one handily. But there is a certain unpredictability that comes with the college football season which is often fueled by equal parts emotion and distraction. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is himself a BYU alum, and has been rumored to be interested in the BYU position. Meanwhile, BYU players seem to be embracing their responsibility to send their head coach out a winner. These are just part of the compelling subplots that underline this game.
My head says Utah. My heart says BYU. This is the Christmas season, so let's just believe.
Gekko's Pick: BYU 44, Utah 42
New Mexico Bowl - Arizona Wildcats vs New Mexico Lobos
The New Mexico is the first bowl game scheduled this morning. Although the matchup, on paper, doesn't appear overly appetizing, there are some things happening around each of these programs that make it somewhat interesting.
The Lobos and Wildcats are no strangers to one another. Though they haven't played in several years, they share a common geography that has twice led them to become competitors in the same football conference. They overlapped in the now-defunct Border Conference and were also in the Western Athletic Conference together for many years. In some ways, the fact that this game will be played before a home crowd in New Mexico makes it feel like a throwback to better days.
Make no mistake, however, that the Wildcats are the better football team. Injuries have derailed a season that should have been a step forward off a Fiesta Bowl appearance for Rich Rodriguez and his Arizona Wildcats. Key players such as RB Nick Wilson, LB Scooby Wright, and QB Anu Solomon have all missed significant time and created huge gaps in Arizona's game plans. Still, the Wildcats feature one of the most explosive offenses in college football and boast a set of playmakers - particularly at wide receiver - that New Mexico will have much trouble matching up against.
The bigger question is whether or not the Wildcats will be able to stop anybody. New Mexico plays more offense than you think and has really seemed to hit its stride in the last third of the season. They are a rush-first, rush-often, option style of offense that has produced nearly 3,000 rushing yards for the season. Ironically, former WSU QB Austin Apodaca is one of the two QBs that the Lobos use to execute this ground assault offense. The Lobos have averaged over five yards a carry with this offense over the entirety of the season. It will be fascinating to see how Arizona, which runs a 3-3-5 base and has been just short of devastatingly brutal in rush defense all year, handles this kind of attack.
There are reasons for optimism if you are a Lobo fan. Ball control is their area of strength and the known kryptonite to RichRod. In addition, I have a sense that the Lobo pass rush might have a chance to disrupt the Arizona passing game a little bit. However, the Wildcats simply possess too many weapons. The fact that the RichRod-to-South-Carolina-Virginia-Miama-or-wherever drama has passed and that LB Scooby Wright seems poised to return figure to give the Wildcats an added boost of adrenaline. I like Arizona here. Big.
Gekko's Pick: Arizona 55, New Mexico 31
There you have it, Dawg Fans. Enjoy Bowl Season - and Star Wars - today. This is your open thread.