So, I feel like Jim has a winning strategy to these previews, so I’m going to steal it a little bit. Why do work that’s already been done for you, right? This game won’t merit quite as much mocking as Fresno State, however, since it’s – you know – a bowl game with a decent team. In fact it has two! Hurrah!
The Las Vegas Bowl is played annually in Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada (shocking). It was started in 1992 (after a 10 year stint as the “California Raisin Bowl”) and originally was a battle between the Big West Conference and the MAC conference. The Big West – a California only conference – split in 1996 and several of its teams moved to the WAC. At that point, the Las Vegas Bowl began to select a WAC team to face off against an at-large opponent from wherever they could be found.
In 1999 the WAC ran into trouble. For 2 years the conference had been made of 16 (!!!) teams split into two divisions, which was further split into 4 quadrants. Realizing that this was completely untenable, several teams split off and joined with a couple non-WAC teams to form the Mountain West Conference – currently the youngest conference in D-1A. When that split occured, the Las Vegas Bowl changed their alignment to choosing a MWC team to face an at-large opponent. In 2001 this became a matchup between the Mountain West and the Pacific 10, and has been that way ever since.
Generally this game is the destination of the Mountain West Champion – unless the MWC gets lucky and puts a team in the BCS like they have with Utah recently. The Las Vegas bowl also gets either the fourth or fifth place Pac-10 team to face them. This means that for the first several years this game was a battle between a MWC team that hadn’t beaten a single opponent of note all season against a Pac-10 team that had scraped together enough wins to end up in the middle of the pack.
Some interesting historical results from this bowl include a 10-6 victory by Utah over Southern California in the first MWC/Pac-10 matchup. This game was likely the last one played before Pete Carroll took over at USC, and may have been the catalist for that move. Also of interest is UNLV trouncing Arkansas 31-14 in 2000, and BYU completely destroying Oregon 38-8 in 2006.
The Beavers enter the game with an 8-4 record, 6-3 in conference, with wins against Stanford (by 10), California (by 17), and against UNLV (a MWC school) 23-21. They’ve also played Cincinnati (28-18 L), USC (42-36 L) and obviously Oregon (37-33 L). Read some of those scores again. They held Cincinnati to 28 points. They almost blew it to UNLV and escaped with a 2 point win. They whacked a Stanford team with a Heisman Trophy candidate running back. They even came within one drive of beating Oregon. This team is a walking enigma and it’ll be interesting to see what happens to them.
Buckeye fans, of course, are already somewhat familiar with this team having watched them compete for a Rose Bowl bid with Oregon. It’s got to hurt, you know? One touchdown drive is the difference between smelling the Roses on January 1st and completing your season in Las Vegas 3 days before Christmas. Oregon State fans – and players – have got to be kicking themselves over this one. Oh well, just like they always say “Better to have tried for the Roses and lost then never to have had the chance at all”.
Ok, maybe they don’t say that, but it sure sounds nice!
Oregon State’s backfield impressed viewers that Thursday night against Oregon. Unheralded quarterback Sean Canfield made a name for himself that night by making great throwing decisions, and delivering the ball perfectly to his receivers all night. For the season, Canfield has a ridiculous 70% completion percentage on 406 attempts. That puts him fourth best in percentage behind Dan Lefevour of CMU (71.1), Case Keenum of Houston (71) and Colt McCoy of Texas (70.5). Good Company to say the least. He also ended with a fantastic 21-6 touchdown to interception ratio and a 148.3 rating. It’s too bad he’s a Senior, as Oregon State would have something incredible to build off of next year in the passing game.
Also in that backfield was spectacular, very heralded running back Jacquizz Rodgers who has 255 carries for 1377 yards and 20 touchdowns on the year. He ranks 13th in the nation in total yards and third in touchdowns scored – the leader in both of those catagories being, of course, Toby Gerhart of Stanford. Rodgers is a small (5-7, 191) scat back with a tremendous burst and great speed off the line. If he breaks through the line, you can forget about it because you aren’t going to catch him. He’ll be returning next year for the Beavers, so there’s one big bright spot in their future.
Lastly, is Jacquizz’s brother James Rodgers who plays receiver. He is by far and away Canfield’s favorite target, hitting him 87 times for just over 1000 yards (1004) and 9 touchdowns. He is a major scoring threat every single time he gets the ball, especially given his long reception of 87 yards for a touchdown. BYU will need to cover him in a big way. It won’t help them too much if they don’t cover anyone else, though, as Canfield has hit 15 different targets on the year, 4 of them consistently.
Oregon State has a good chance to have a big game and put points on the board with all of their weapons. They have never lost the Las Vegas Bowl, and aren’t looking to start now. Sure this is only their second attempt, but it’s still something, right?
Brigham Young University, out of Provo, Utah, has a rich bowl tradition and claims a single National Title to their name in a season that had a then record 13 wins and 0 losses, but with that last win over a pathetic 6-6 Michigan team to secure the title. I’ll rant about this in full some other day when I’m not feeling nice. Right now, there’s Beavers to be a-slaughtered.
This is BYU’s fifth straight trip to the Las Vegas bowl in as many years. At some point BYU might just have to add a game in Las Vegas in December as an end of season game simply because it’s become tradition. Guess this is what happens when Utah and TCU keep jumping into the BCS. So what stopped BYU from being that team this year? Let’s take a look.
BYU started the year in spectacular shape with a 1 point victory against then #3 Oklahoma. The Cougar defense was smothering in that game, even going so far as to knock Sam Bradford out of the game with a concussion that sidelined him for several weeks and eliminated him from Heisman contention. Before the game, BYU was considered a team with a shot at BCS glory. After the game, they were just about considered a lock for the big money. Unfortunately, reality got in the way. Two weeks later a measily Florida State team made BYU look stupid with a final score of 54-28, completely dashing any chance of BYU making the BCS, no matter how the rest of their season turned out.
Things turned even worse when TCU (and College Gameday) came to town in late October. The Horned Frogs left no survivors on the way to a 38-7 rout of the Cougars in Provo. BYU took it out the next week on hapless Wyoming 52-0, and carried the momentum to the finish line and a 10-2 record. Other than Oklahoma their only notable victory came against Utah in the Holy War – a 26-23 win.
BYU is lead by Senior Quarterback Max Hall who has thrown for 3368 yards, 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions on a 67.5% completion percentage. He’s also enough of a running threat that you need to account for the possibility of the QB scramble. His 2 touchdowns on 67 running attempts isn’t impressive, neither is the 78 total yards gained, but taking into account sack yardage makes it at least something that Oregon State needs to watch out for.
The Cougars like to run several different players, but their favorite runner has to be Harvey Unga with 184 carries and 1016 yards. He’s also scored 10 touchdowns, but that would probably be higher if the other 14 running touchdowns hadn’t been spread amongst 7 other players. At 239 pounds, Unga is definitely a bruising power back who won’t outrace you to the endzone. He will, however, hurt people when he hits them, and I’m sure he relishes doing precisely that.
Where Oregon State had 15 potential receivers and 4 regular targets, BYU has 13 receivers with 10 regulars. They are absolutely not afraid to spread the ball around all over the field, as is evidenced by 11 of those 13 players scoring touchdowns, and all 10 of the regulars have over 100 yards on the season. The top 7 average more than 11 yards per catch making BYU a potentially deadly passing team. The most prolific is Dennis Pitta with 57 receptions for 784 yards and 7 touchdowns. By far and away he is the go-to receiver for the BYU team. He is not the most dangerous, however, as that distinction goes to McKay Jacobson with a disgusting 25.2 yards per catch average on 21 catches for 4 touchdowns.
Jeff at the BBC: Oregon State
Mali: Brigham Young
Jim: Oregon State
Eric: Brigham Young
Clearly this one could go either way. Both teams are solid – and evenly matched – on the offensive side of the ball given the stats. I didn’t spend much time on defenses primarily because it’s a crap-shoot depending upon the style of offense and would’ve made this preview last forever. However, in terms of performance, I definitely have to give the edge to BYU’s fast, disciplined, fundamentals defense. Pac-10 defenses have long underwhelmed me (USC notwithstanding, for the most part) and I believe they’ll do it again here.
Keep in mind the last 2 previews I’ve written and made a prediction on the outcome have turned out to be horribly horribly wrong.
This is a January quality bowl game in the pre-christmas season. Mark it on your calender, ignore your family for 3 hours, and enjoy the matchup. This is precisely the kind of game that makes the bowl season fun.