The 2016 Las Vegas Bowl features two quality but unranked in the Houston Cougars(9-3) and San Diego Aztecs(10-3). This is the first time an American Athletic Conference team will be participating in the Las Vegas bowl as the committee elected to invite Houston because of how the Pac-12 played out in terms of bowl eligibility, however, this is the 2nd time San Diego St. has played in the Las Vegas Bowl. Back in 1998, the Aztecs would lose to North Carolina, 20-13. This year’s Las Vegas Bowl should give fans a new experience from what they’re used to when it comes to the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Houston Cougars come into this bowl game without Tom Herman leading the way instead they’ll be led by ex-Texas QB Major Applewhite, despite this coaching change, I fully expect Houston’s offense to not regress. Applewhite comes from an offensive background and has been an offensive coordinator in college football since 2006. This past season Houston surprised many college football fans in good ways but also bad ways. They opened the season with a big win over Oklahoma then later on in the season embarrassed Louisville, however, they also lost to some teams they should have beat in Memphis and SMU. Which is why Houston finds themselves unranked and not playing in a better bowl game. Houston is led by Senior QB Greg Ward, Jr., and he leads the team in both passing and rushing. Ward will need to have a big game in the air and on the ground for the Cougars if Ward and Houston want to end their season on a high note. Defensively, the Cougars are prone to giving up plays in the passing game but have been able to hold opposing teams to under 100 yards a game on average this season, this is where they can really test the Aztecs potent rushing attack and force them to throw the ball if they get behind.
It has been a nice few years for the San Diego St. Aztecs, they won the Mountain West Conference these last two seasons and will not look to win 11 games for the second straight season. San Diego St. is the opposite offensively compared to Houston, instead of an explosive playmaking QB, they have the nation’s leading rusher in Donnel Pumphrey, and ranked 5th in the nation total rushing yards amassed, 7th in total rushing yards per game, and tied for 13th in rushing touchdowns this past season. The Aztecs rely on their rushing attack, they only have one receiver over 500 yards and no one else has over 300 yards receiving. San Diego St. doesn’t ask much from sophomore QB Christian Chapman, however, they might be forced to if Houston’s rush defense shows up. San Diego St. defensively possess a stout rush defense with an interception producing secondary. The Aztecs allowed just 52% completion percentage against and intercepted opposing QB’s 22 times, which ranked #1 in the nation, they also allowed 24 touchdowns but that is still not a bad touchdown to interception ratio. The Aztecs can make things interesting if they can force Ward into mistakes while capitalizing on those mistakes.
The Las Vegas Bowl this year shows us why we love bowl season in college football. Houston and San Diego St. are two winning teams that have won games in different ways and because of this, it poses some very interesting match-ups and storylines that should make for an exciting game as the game plays out. Can Greg Ward, Jr. have a big game? Will Donnel Pumphrey bounce back against a good rushing defense? How will the Aztecs defense force Ward into making mistakes? Two teams led by two outstanding seniors, it doesn’t get any more college football than that. Enjoy the game.
Prediction: 38-24, Aztecs
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