A decade ago, the bowl season did not start on the third weekend of December. In this day and age, with a whopping 35 bowl games on the schedule, the postseason has to be spread out. You don’t hear too many fans complaining, though.
The action gets under way this Saturday with a pair of bowl games. Here’s a closer look at both contests:
Nevada Wolf Pack vs. Arizona Wildcats in the New Mexico Bowl — Saturday, 1:05 p.m.
Odds: Arizona -9.5
Can Nevada limit Arizona’s offense? That’s the No. 1 question in this game. Arizona’s offense was an up-and-down unit this past season, but one needs to realize there are some rugged defenses in the Pac-12 — a league that isn’t just a high-octane passing league with lots of finesse football. Oregon, the team that shut out Arizona earlier this season, owns a legitimately tough defense that, in the Ducks’ only loss this season, limited Stanford and its power running game to only 17 points. UCLA held Arizona to just 10 points, overpowering the Wildcats from start to finish. Arizona did not play soft opponents every week. At times, the Wildcats’ offense got bloodied up, but that same offense also won its share of battles.
The Wildcats scored more than 50 points against Washington State and Oklahoma State. They scored 48 against Stanford and 39 against USC. Arizona is poised to become one of the best offenses in the nation under head coach Rich Rodriguez, who took over the West Virginia program and lifted the Mountaineers to two BCS bowl appearances. In one year, 2007, West Virginia came within one win of making an appearance in the BCS national championship game. All in all, Arizona has a thoroughbred coach — one who will want to get his team to max out in this bowl game against Nevada.
The Wolf Pack is going to find it hard to withstand the fury of Arizona’s offense, which should be fine-tuned and ready to play well. Keep in mind that since this bowl game arrives early — 10 days before Christmas — the layoff between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the bowl season will not be that long for these teams. They should not be rusty, and that plays to Arizona’s advantage.
Toledo Rockets vs. Utah State Aggies in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — Saturday, 4:35 p.m.
Odds: Utah State -10
In a matter of weeks, Utah State went from potential BCS spoiler against Louisiana Tech to the Western Athletic Conference’s best team.
At 10-2, the Aggies went unbeaten in the WAC. Their two losses came at the last second to Wisconsin, on a missed field goal, and by just a field goal to BYU. The Aggies may not be a highlight reel each week, but they’re a sound and well-balanced football team. For much of the 2012 season, the Aggies ranked in the top 40 nationally in run defense, pass defense, run offense and pass offense. Running back Kerwynn Williams rushed for slightly under 1,300 yards and totaled 17 touchdowns while quarterback Chuckie Keeton finished the regular season with more than 3,000 yards in the air and a 3-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Aggies haven’t lost a game in more than two months. The next time they take the field, they will have distanced themselves even more from the sensation of defeat.
They have won games against their two biggest WAC challengers — each on the road — and that’s something to pay attention to before a neutral-site bowl battle. The Aggies aren’t limited, either: nine players recorded double-digit receptions this year, and six players had more than 20 catches and 200 yards.
Defensively, Utah State offers a great pass rush that registered 39 sacks and ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense. The WAC champion is getting a favorable matchup in Toledo, the third- or fourth-best team in the Mid-American Conference. Had Utah State faced Kent State (the MAC runner-up), this Potato Bowl might have a different storyline. Toledo, though, should not be able to keep pace with Utah State.