Daily Blog • December 15th
Nevada vs Arizona
NEVADA (7-5) 259
1:00 pm ET • ESPN • University Stadium • Albuquerque, NM

Nevada is playing in its 7th consecutive bowl and is 2-5 in the post season after losing last year to Southern Miss in the Hawaii Bowl 24-17. The Pack did play here in November, a 31-24 win over NM and this will be their 4th meeting vs UA, but 1st since ‘41. UN played 4 bowl caliber teams this year all vs conference foes going 1-3 getting outgained 473-424 and outscored 42-32. This matchup features the #1 and #2 rushers in the FBS. Arizona returns to the post season after a year absence under new HC Rich Rodriguez (2-4 in bowls at Michigan and WV). The Wildcats have played my 11th toughest schedule, while the Pack my #120.

When you prepare for Ault’s Pistol offense you have to defend the entire field. UN comes in with my #35 off avg 37 ppg and 503 ypg. QB Fajardo (981 rush yards) excelled in his 2nd year drawing many comparisons to Pack legend Kaepernick after leading Nevada to the FBS’s #11 ranking in total offense and #7 in rushing offense. RB Jefferson finished #2 in the FBS in rushing (50 yards shy of #1). When Fajardo squares his shoulders he has a rocket for an arm and has a solid receiving group including JUCO surprise Turner and Mackey semifinalist Sudfeld. The OL, nicknamed “The Union” returned 3 starters from last year avg 6’3” 301 and paved the way for 260 rush ypg (5.2) while allowing 18 sacks (4.8). The defense has been a disappointment, finishing #106 in my rankings, allowing 33 ppg and 431 ypg. The DL is the team’s thinnest position avg 6’3” 268 led by Hekking who was #2 in the MW with 8 sacks. Nevada is allowing 213 rush ypg (5.1) and the DL has 75% of the team’s sacks. The Pack allowed 327 ypg (6.0) in their last 4 but 2 of those were vs the #1 and #5 rush offenses (option teams). The LB’s are led by Rossette who moved from the DL and he leads the MW in tackles (10.7 per game) including a UN record 25 tackle performance vs AF. The Pack have my #96 pass eff defense allowing 218 ypg (56%) with a 24-4 ratio led by S Duke Willliams (#2 tackler) and CB Wooten (14 pbu). Nevada has my #61 ST’s ranking finishing in the bottom 3rd of the FBS in kick coverage but Wooten was #4 in the FBS in PR averaging 16.4.

The Wildcats have my #9 offense under new HC Rodriguez, avg 37 ppg and 522 ypg. A big part of the immediate success was QB Matt Scott who opted to RS in ‘11 to become the clear-cut starter this year with the departure of Nick Foles. Despite a concussion in the tail-end of the season that saw him miss 1.5 games, Scott proved to be a perfect fit for the new scheme. The biggest surprise to the offense, however, had to be the performance from RB Ka’Deem Carey, who leads the nation in rushing heading into the post season including putting up a Pac-12 record 366 rush yards a month ago vs Colorado. Austin Hill has been equally impressive, leading the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving td’s while former Texas transfer Dan Buckner has chipped in significantly. The OL avg 6’6” 289 and paved the way for 230 ypg rushing (5.4) while allowing 18 sacks (3.7%). The 3-3-5 defensive alignment has my #85 ranking allowing 34 ppg and 486 ypg due to the struggles up front by the 6’3” 263 lb DL that has allowed 190 ypg rush (4.4) while chipping in on just 5.5 of the team’s 16 sacks (34%). LB Jake Fischer leads the team in tackles with fellow LB Marquis Flowers a close 2nd. The secondary has plenty of talent, however, 4 of the 5 starters are underclassmen which could be a big part of their #75 ranking in my pass eff def (296 ypg, 61%, 22-10 ratio). The special teams unit has my #91 ranking led by PR Morrison (63 yard PR td vs Washington).

This is probably the largest schedule difference as Arizona played my #11 schedule while UN played my #120 on the season. Down the stretch, however, the Wolf Pack were -46 ypg vs the #65 schedule while the Wildcats were -32 ypg vs the #45 schedule. If you like offense, this one maybe one of the more entertaining games of the bowl season. The Pack will keep it closer than expected but in the end a healthy Matt Scott will prove to be too much.

PHIL’S FORECAST: arizona 45 nevada 37
Toledo vs Utah St
TOLEDO (9-3) 134
UTAH ST (10-2)
4:30 pm • ESPN • Bronco Stadium • Boise, ID

The Rockets head to their 3rd straight post season and their 13th bowl in school history (8-4). After not making a bowl since ‘97, 2012 WAC COY Gary Andersen has led USU to back-to-back appearances in the Idaho Potato Bowl and they’re making their 7th all-time bowl appearance (1-5). Toledo is 1-2 against the WAC. The Aggies lost to Ohio here last year by 1 point. USU is 7-2 vs the MAC. The Aggies’ only bowl victory was over Ball St in the ‘93 Las Vegas Bowl (42-33).

UT won its most regular season games since ‘02 under 1st year HC Campbell, their former OC who took over the program prior to last year’s bowl win and remains the FBS’s youngest HC at 33. The Rockets 2-QB system lasted for just the opening OT loss to Arizona as Sr Dantin started and finished the game but hit just 10-25 for 63 yards and was replaced by Jr Owens for the balance of the season. Battling a nagging ankle inj, Owens (243 ypg, 63%, 14-8) finished #2 in the MAC in pass eff despite sitting out the finale. The offense relied on RB Fluellen who led all MAC RB’s in rushing ypg (133) despite also sitting out the finale (ankle). Speedster Reedy is tied for the conference lead with 82 receptions (12.8). The OL (6’5” 294) allowed 23 sacks (5.7%) but did pave the way for 198 rush ypg (4.9). UT has my #62 off and my #89 D. Reflecting the issues this program has had defensively the Rockets’ 27.3 ppg allowed this year was their fewest since ‘05. The DL (6’3” 276) is anchored by 3 Sr’s led by tfl leader DE Keighley. The heart and soul is Sr Molls who leads the nation with 166 tackles. Remarkably by bowl’s end Bell could join him in crossing the century mark in tackles. UT ranks #77 in my pass eff D (296 ypg, 61%, 26-17) with All-MAC SS Robinson leading the team with 4 int. The ST’s are #5 featuring dynamo RM Reedy (11.4 PR, 26.7 KR, 3 total td). K Detmer hit 21-26 FG with 6-8 from 40+. P Penza has a 37.5 net. The coverage units allowed 7.1 on PR and 20.3 on KR’s.

USU has had arguably its best season in school history as the 10 wins are its most ever. The Aggies also won their first outright league championship since 1936! USU’s 2 losses were by a combined 5 points, both on FG misses vs Big Ten power Wisconsin and to rival BYU. The Aggies dominated fellow 10-2 WAC member San Jose St on the road 49-27, piling up an amazing 13 sacks! Before the season QB Chuckie Keeton’s goal was to have a 3-1 td to int ratio and that is exactly how he finished (27-9). In breaking the 1,000 yard barrier, RB Kerwyn Williams topped the century mark 6 times including a season-high 205 vs Colorado St as the OL (6’4’’ 304) is led by 1st Tm WAC selections Tyler Larsen and Eric Schultz. USU shifted from a run-oriented offense to a more balanced attack this year (283 ypg last year to 195 ypg this year) and saw their pass numbers increase from 175 ypg last year to 268 ypg this year while allowing 2 less sacks (6.2% last year to 4.1% this year). USU has my #52 offense and #38 defense. On D the Aggies are among the NCAA leaders in points allowed (15.4, #8) and sacks per gm (3.25, #8). They are led by LB’s Jake Doughty (#1 tackler) and Zach Vigil (#2 tackler.) They are better across the board as their rush ypg improved from allowing 128 ypg (3.5) last year to 112 ypg (2.9) this year while their pass ypg improved from 238 ypg (60.5%, 17-4 ratio) last year to just 213 ypg (54.5%, 12-12 ratio) this year (my #19 pass eff def). USU has my #29 ranked ST’s unit as Cameron Webb led the WAC in PR avg 8.8 ypr.

While USU clearly has the better offense and defense on paper, I’m a little concerned about their psyche as last year they had 7 wins and ended up in the same bowl as this year with 10 wins. The Aggies are only 2 missed FG’s away from an undefeated season and the players (and even coaches) will be thinking ‘what if’. However, they do have the crowd edge in this one and the familiarity with playing in this bowl last year and I will call for them to win by a touchdown in what should be another entertaining game.

PHIL’S FORECAST: utah st 33 toledo 26