Upcoming Match-ups

Las Vegas Bowl Preview: San Diego State vs Houston

Matt McEwan

by Matt McEwan in College Football

Dec 10, 2016 · 5:55 AM PST

The college bowl season offers more opportunities for betting than your fickle heart may know what to do with. But just because you’ve never heard of the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, it doesn’t mean you should stay away from it. Let SportsBettingDime be your guide through all of bowl season, especially the really obscure ones!

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Today, we look at… 

The Bowl

Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 17, 2016)

San Diego State vs Houston (-3)

This is the 25th edition of the Las Vegas Bowl, but the first time since 2003 that it has not had any sponsorship attached to it. It spent the previous three years known as the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. Usually this bowl features the Mountain West Conference (MWC) champion and the fifth or six-seeded team from the Pac-12. However, with only six bowl-eligible teams in the Pac-12 this year, the game will feature an American Athletic Conference team for the first time.

Some major historical events have occurred at Las Vegas Bowls past, as Katie Hnida became the first female to play in an FBS game when she was sent in to kick the extra point for New Mexico in 2002. (Unfortunately, the kick was blocked.) Some well-known running backs have taken home the MVP of this game, too: Steven Jackson in 2003, Marshawn Lynch in 2005, and Doug Martin in 2011. There’s a decent chance that trend continues with one of the best backs in the nation playing this year’s edition. More on that later.

The Teams

Houston Cougars (9-3, 5-3 AAC)

Unfortunately for the Cougars, the man who coached them to a 9-3 record this season will not be on their sideline in this one. Tom Herman, who was hired as the new head coach of the Texas Longhorns, has already left his post in Houston. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando had been holding the interim tag until the school announced that offensive coordinator Major Applewhite would take over head coaching duties. The Las Vegas Bowl will be his first game as the boss.

Offensively, the Cougars have been a one-trick pony all season. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. not only threw for 3,328 yards (17th in the nation), but also led the team in rushing with 518 yards on the ground. Thanks to Ward’s 31 combined touchdowns (22 passing), the Cougars managed 38 points per game (21st).

While it has been one player carrying the load on offense, the Cougars defensive success is a result of contributions from several players. Steven Taylor was an integral part of the Houston run defense (third), leading the way with 72 tackles this season. Opposing teams were able to find more room through the air, averaging 227.1 passing yards per game against Houston (66th). Beware of corner Howard Wilson, though, who has five interceptions and two fumble recoveries this season.

Entering the final week of the regular season, Houston was ranked no. 20 in the nation and had big wins over no. 3 Oklahoma and no. 5 Louisville. The team was poised to grab a spot in a bigger bowl game, but fell to unranked Memphis (48-44), in spite of a brilliant game from Ward. They now enter bowl season outside of the top-25.

The school is looking to win its third-straight bowl game after taking last year’s Peach Bowl (38-24 over FSU) and the Armed Forces Bowl the season prior (35-34 over Pitt).

San Diego State Aztecs (10-3, 6-2 MW)

The Aztecs were pegged as heavy favorites in the MWC West, and they were able to take both the division and conference crown, but the season wasn’t without its hiccups, including puzzling defeats at the hands of 6-6 South Alabama and 7-5 Colorado State. They were able to avenge their third loss, which came at the hands of Wyoming, by beating the Cowboys in the MWC championship game, 27-24.

San Diego State is not a team that’s going to put the ball in the air often. Their offense relies upon the nation’s second-leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey (2,018 rushing yards) and his backfield mate Rashaad Penny. The two have combined for 32 touchdowns on the season and are responsible for the Aztec’s seventh-ranked rushing attack (273.3 rush yards per game).

The Aztec defense has clearly gotten used to defending the run in practice, as they have been able to hold opponents to 111.9 rushing yards per game (11th). The team isn’t terrible against the pass either, only surrendering 208.2 yards per game through the air (40th). Corner Damontae Kazee had his side of the field shutdown most of the year, picking off seven passes (third in the nation) and taking them the other way for a combined 156 yards and one touchdown.

This is the Aztecs’ seventh consecutive bowl appearance, going 3-3 in the previous six, and their second shot in the Las Vegas Bowl, with the previous resulting in a loss to North Carolina back in 1998.

The Play

Houston (-3)

All three of the Cougars’ losses this season have come away from John O’Quinn Field, but that’s no reason to shy away from them here.

The Houston defense, which excels against the run, will be able to focus all its attention on the two backs who do the bulk of the damage for the Aztecs’ one-dimensional offense. San Diego State quarterback Christian Chapman, who only puts the ball in the air an average of 18.2 times per game, will likely see his number called more than he’s used to.

Greg Ward Jr. is the best player on the field in this one, and he will be too much for the Aztec defense to stop. In spite of Houston only covering the spread in one of its last eight, keep in mind that they have faced a lot of massive spreads this season. The -3 line for this game is the smallest to date when Houston’s been favored.

Tom Herman was a distracted man heading into the Memphis game, and his team’s play matched that. Applewhite will have his squad refocused and ready to lay a beating on the Aztecs.

Photo Credit: Ken Lund (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].

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