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.
This year things are a little different. While TCU made it into the BCS leaving MWC runner-up Utah to take the Las Vegas bowl, the Pac-10 was completely unable to fullfil their bowl requirements. Only four teams from the Pac-10 made it to bowl eligibility, meaning that the Las Vegas bowl was able to pick up a team of their choice. With Boise State staring a trip to their home field for the holidays, the Las Vegas Bowl snatched them up instead.
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 was Pete Carroll’s first bowl game at USC*. Also of interest is UNLV trouncing Arkansas 31-14 in 2000, and BYU completely destroying Oregon 38-8 in 2006.
Last season saw a 10-2 Brigham Young team wail on 8-4 Oregon State by a score of 44-20. Keep in mind that Oregon State was a single score against Oregon away from playing in the Rose Bowl against the Buckeyes.
The MAACO Las Vegas bowl is quickly turning into the “Mountain West Conference team that got killed by TCU” game. Last year, BYU was dismantled by TCU (in Provo!) before ending up in this one. This year, Utah got slapped around on national television (in Salt Lake City!) and here they are!
Utah’s season started out in great shape running through September and October completely unscathed with BCS wins over then-ranked Pittsburgh (27-24 in OT) and unranked Iowa State (68-27). Unfortunately, once November rolled around the old Tressel mantra of “September is for pretenders” took hold. Utah dropped their game to TCU and followed that up by getting killed in South Bend the very next week. A 4 point come-from-behind victory over a good San Diego State team, along with a 1 point victory against Brigham Young in the Holy War are the only things that kept them in the hunt for this bowl.
The Utes are led by Sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn (6-1, 195). Wynn is a tremendous athlete with a bright future ahead of him. So far this season he’s tossed 299 passes for 186 completions and 2334 yards to go with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Clearly his decision making needs a little work, but given that he’s only a sophomore you can expect that things will only get better from here.
It’s clear from the stats that this Utah team goes as Wynn goes – though perhaps you could say that about most college football teams. However, it has been particularly apparent with this team. Here are Wynn’s worst six games, and the results for the team:
|Notre Dame||98.19||28-3 L|
|Air Force||124.92||28-23 W|
When Wynn plays particularly poorly his team gets crushed, when he does an ok job his team wins. Therefore, it is imperative that Wynn not lose the game for the Utes.
**Of course, Terrance Cain is starting in place of Wynn who suffered a shoulder injury against Iowa State – a possible explanation for the sudden shocking collapse at the hands of TCU. Wynn did, however, play through the end of the season. Give the kid props for toughing it out with a painful injury.
The players who are going to need to get going come out of the backfield. Senior runningbacks Eddie Wide (5-10, 195) and Matt* Asiata (5-11, 220) are the work horses for this Utah team. Neither one is a big play threat, their longest carries being 39 and 42 yards respectively for the season, but they both ground out the tough yards. Both of them have just under 700 yards on the season with around 150 carries a piece, splitting the carries equally the whole way. They are also the touchdown leaders of the team, with Wide scoring 11 times and Asiata notching 8.
Both Wide and Asiata will also receive passes from Wynn, but they are by no means his favorite receivers. Senior wideout Jereme Brooks (5-7, 170) has caught 50 passes on the season for 628 yards and 4 touchdowns. Despite his height, he is a dangerous receiver, making several big plays including a 60 yard play against BYU and a 75 yard score at New Mexico. Surprisingly, however, he hasn’t scored since that New Mexico game in late September, going on a 9 game scoring drought.
His teammate, sophomore wideout Devonte Christopher (6-1, 200) has 6 touchdowns and 660 yards to his name on only 39 receptions. Christopher is a particularly dangerous receiver in his own right, and is much more likely to house a long pass play than Brooks is.
The team that we like to call “Southern Idaho State” managed to escape the confines of the all-too-familiar Humanitarian Bowl this year with an invite to the Las Vegas bowl. I doubt they’ll be sending the Pac-10 a thank you card, though they absolutely should. In fact, it should probably just be addressed to the USC athletic offices.
I doubt too many people are unfamiliar with Boise State this year, considering their faces have been plastered all over College Football all season long. However, I will quickly sum up their season. They were anointed as one of the teams to go to the Mythical National Championship preseason. They beat Virginia Tech to solidify those claims (before VT forgot to play football against James Madison). They followed that up with a nearly undefeated season in conference until their field goal kicker, Kyle Brotzman, dropped the crystal trophy against Nevada…twice.
I’m sure we’ve made a lot of Southern Idaho State fans happy with that last paragraph. It’ll only get better from here.
Boise State has a particularly dominant brand of offense and defense – though it’s hard not to dominate in the WAC. The Broncos are lead by senior quarterback Kellen Moore (6-0, 187), a prolific pocket passer style of field general. Unlike Wynn, Moore’s play does not seem to adversely affect his team, though a player of Moore’s ability would be hard pressed to make his team worse. Moore has thrown for 3506 yards on a 71% completion percentage with 33 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Against any other conference, those are Heisman numbers.
Of course, when you have receivers like Boise State has any quarterback could look good. Senior receivers Titus Young (5-11, 170) and Austin Pettis (6-3, 201) have combined for nearly 2000 yards of offense and 18 touchdowns this season alone. That kind of production is incredible when you consider they’ve done it with half the total team receptions for the season. Utah’s secondary will find itself challenged with this group.
Moore is not the only weapon possessed by Boise State. Junior running back Doug Martin (5-9, 201) is a beast in the backfield. He’s run 184 times for 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season – a remarkable 6 yards per carry. He’s tough to stop, even running for 150 yards on 24 carries in the Broncos only loss this season. Beyond that, the usually stout Virginia Tech defense gave up 6.9 yards per carry to Martin. Even if Utah can stop Moore, they’ll be hard pressed to keep Martin from rolling over them.
Boise State should have no trouble rolling over the Utes in this one. This Broncos team, for all we pile on them, is a very good team and will be extraordinarily difficult to stop. That’s especially true for a Utah team that has proven it can’t beat BCS quality teams – and make no mistake about it, Boise State is a BCS quality team this year.
* Corrected – thanks CrimsonUte!
** Added – thanks Utah Fan Healey!