One of bowl season's most controversial games occurs Tuesday between the Nevada Wolf Pack and the Colorado State Rams.
Both teams hail from the Mountain West, with Nevada sitting at 6-6 and Colorado State at 7-5. It's an intriguing matchup and the two sides hadn't encountered one another this year, but conference commissioner Craig Thompson stood as one of the biggest opponents to the pairing in a statement released on TheMW.com:
It is a travesty the Mountain West has been forced into this situation. Clearly, the system is broken. There is an excess of bowl games due in part to a disparate allocation of openings vs. conference bowl histories. The result is teams with sub-.500 records participating in bowl games. There is consensus change is needed and this year's outcome must not be repeated.
With those preliminary details out of the way, let's take a look at what should be one of bowl season's more interesting encounters between two similar teams with plenty of star power and defensive talent to put on a show.
When: Tuesday, December 29, at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona
Spread: Colorado State (-3)
Team Injury Reports
|Joey Anglemire||OL||Ques Tues|
|Travis Wilson||LB||Ques Tues|
|Jarid Joseph||DE||Ques Tues|
|Adam Khouri||OL||Out indefinitely|
|Matt Moen||TE||Out for season|
|Brayden Sanchez||WR||Out for season|
|Source: USA Today.|
|Nick Callender||OL||Ques Tues|
|Nick Januska||DB||Ques Tues|
|Trent Matthews||S||Out for season|
|Elroy Masters Jr.||WR||Out indefinitely|
|Source: USA Today.|
Injury reports courtesy of USA Today.
Chip on the Shoulder
Nevada feels disrespected and points to one detail about the bowl, and might just have a point.
The Wolf Pack beat San Jose State this year, but it was the Spartans who were selected to play in the Cure Bowl, not Nevada.
Nevada defensive end Lenny Jones spoke on the situation, according to ESPN.com.
"We do feel disrespected," Jones said. "We've definitely got a little chip on our shoulder for playing against an in-conference team and letting another team that we beat, without six wins, go to Orlando in the sun on Dec. 19."
The Wolf Pack have some work to do to turn things around after Jones and Co. finished the season on a two-game skid. Teams seemed to figure out down the stretch that the offense wouldn't do anything but lean on a pair of top backs, as the season numbers show:
It's not such a bad thing when the Nevada defense allows just 27.2 points per game—though, it's the same total the Colorado State defense permits.
Nevada can usually play its game and win, but Tuesday the offense figures to need more from quarterback Tyler Stewart, who mustered 15 scores to seven picks this year. If the threat through the air isn't there, Colorado State might be able to impose its will.
Riding the Wave
The Rams might be one of the hottest teams in the nation.
After starting 3-5, the Rams rattled off four wins in a row to close the season, with only the season-ending 34-31 victory against Fresno State a somewhat close contest.
Unlike Nevada, Colorado State gets plenty of production from quarterback Nick Stevens, who has completed 62 percent of his passes with 21 touchdown tosses this year, while behind him six rushers scored two or more touchdowns, led by Dalyn Dawkins' 805 yards.
The biggest threat on the Colorado State offense, though, comes in the form of wideout Rashard Higgins, who has 66 catches for 933 yards and eight touchdowns a year removed from posting 96 for 1,750 and 17.
Though the Rams have a more run-heavy approach this year, Higgins hit the proverbial nail on the head while speaking with Rich Kurtzman of BSNDenver.com:
The Rams will need to lean on Higgins early and often Tuesday, especially if the two-headed monster the Wolf Pack trots out can control the clock and limit the chances the Coloroado State offense sees the field.
Las Vegas seems to think this one will be close, but there's a reason Colorado State has won two in a row in this series and 11 of 13.
The Rams are simply the deeper team. Not only will the newfound run-first approach help control this one, the offense shouldn't have any problems taking to the air—when these sides met in 2014, Higgins posted 10 catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns.
Nevada still doesn't have anyone who can contain the star wideout, and the chip-on-the-shoulder angle only goes so far against a superior opponent. Expect the Rams to pull ahead and sit on the lead.
Prediction: Colorado State 27, Nevada 20