2008 Las Vegas Bowl Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 12/16/2008
No. 16 BYU vs. Arizona
Conference Matchup: Mountain West vs. Pac-10
Date: 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 20
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Odds: Arizona -3.0; Total 61.5
This has got to be getting old for BYU.
For the fourth straight season the Cougars are headed to Sam Boyd Stadium to take part in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl. This Saturday the No. 16 Cougars take on Arizona in what has become an annual Christmas ritual for BYU. (And yes, those wacky Mormons celebrate Christmas.)
Last year BYU blocked a last-second field goal to secure a 17-16 win over UCLA. They also beat Oregon, 38-8, in 2006 and lost here to Cal, 35-28, in the 2005 Las Vegas Bowl. However, despite their experience and the fact that they are the ranked team in this affair, BYU is actually a three-point underdog in this game. The total is set at 61.5.
In order for Arizona to cover the spread in this bowl game they have to win the game outright. And that is something that the Pac-10 had a load of trouble doing this year against the Mountain West. Teams from The Mountain actually went 6-1 straight up and 4-3 against the spread against the Pac-10 this season. That included an upset win by Mountain West bottom dweller New Mexico over this very Wildcat team.
BYU notched two of those wins against the Pac-10, laying a 59-0 ass beating on UCLA at home, but also almost losing to a putrid Washington team in Seattle. You might recall that was the game in which a questionable personal foul was issued on Jake Locker after scoring a late touchdown nearly drew the Huskies even. The extra point was blocked, and BYU escaped.
This is the fourth straight year that BYU has hit Las Vegas, but it is also the third straight year that the Cougars and Wildcats have tangled. BYU won at home last year, 20-7, while Arizona won the 2006 meeting, 16-13. BYU covered in both meetings.
I wouldn't expect a similarly low scoring contest this time around. Arizona (No. 16) and BYU (No. 19) are two of the top scoring offenses in all of college football, with the pair combining to average 72 points per game. Wild Willie Tuitama (2,763 passing yards and 21 touchdowns) is the triggerman for the Wildcat attack while "Marvelous" Max Hall (3,629 yards and 34 touchdowns) is the leader of the Cougars. Both teams feature 1,000-yard rushers and both teams are able to throw up points in a hurry.
Arizona has a clear advantage on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats boast the No. 14 pass defense in the country and the No. 20 unit overall in regards to total yards. That said, the Wildcats defense was decidedly better in Tucson, giving up an average of just 14.7 points per game at home while allowing 30.6 points per game on the road. On the other side, BYU doesn't rank higher than 58th in total yards, passing yards, or rushing yards allowed.
BYU faced two Top 20 defenses this season: Utah and TCU. Sure enough, those were the only two teams that beat the Cougars this season. They lost by 25 points to TCU and by 24 to Utah, mustering just 31 combined points in those games.
So we have common opponents, we have relative conference strength, we have head-to-head matchups, we have statistical matchups to break down, and we have a load of intangibles to sift through. But does any of this information point to a winner?
As a handicapper, I find the fact that an unranked team is favored over a ranked opponent to be very telling. Especially considering that the public is still throwing a majority of wagers down on the Cougars. Also, there is the Overwhelmed To Be In A Bowl Game Factor that works in Arizona's favor. This is the program's first postseason appearance since 1998, and you know that everyone is going to be amped up for this one. We saw a similar situation last year with Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs gutted out an upset win in their bowl game.
Arizona is on a nice 11-5 ATS rush and they are 6-2 ATS against a team with a winning record. BYU has been a money burner, going just 1-7 ATS over the last two months.
On the flip side, the Cougars have the heavy experience factor in their favor. In fact, no player on Arizona's roster has played in a bowl game before. On top of that, I am much more willing to trust my cash to Bronco Mendenhall than Mike Stoops. Arizona is 0-4 ATS against the Mountain West and is a pathetic 11-29 ATS in its last 40 games as a favorite.
So place your bets. Mine is going down on BYU…to play here again next year!
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