Houston Cougars (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. San Diego State Aztecs (10-3 SU, 6-6-1 ATS)
Las Vegas Bowl
Date/Time: Saturday, December 17, 2016 at 3:30PM EST
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: HOU -3/SDSU +3
Over/Under Total: 54.5
On December 17, the Houston Cougars take on the San Diego Aztecs in the Las Vegas Bowl from Sam Boyd Stadium. Each team lost just three games on the season. The Aztecs won the Mountain West Conference title game in a 27-24 win over Wyoming in their last game, their tenth win of the season. Houston saw their season get a bit wayward late in the season, finishing 4-3 in their last 7, including a 48-44 loss to Memphis in their last game on November 25. Houston will also be without their head coach Tom Herman, who is off to take the head coaching gig at Texas. Can they shake this off and approach this game with some urgency?
San Diego St. wasn't able to finish the season that strongly, either. They were able to right the ship in time to post the win over Wyoming, who had beaten them a few weeks prior. But they had lost two straight before that game, getting beaten by Wyoming and then Colorado State. Earlier in the season, they lost badly to South Alabama. That should highlight what was a strange, but successful season it was for the Aztecs. But they have certainly put forth several clunkers this season.
San Diego State relies on the run-game in a big way and they have a good one leading the way in Donnel Pumphrey, who rushed for over 2000 yards this season. Perhaps the extra time given him to prepare for this game will refresh his legs, being that he did not finish his season with the strongest of form. With the time and the fact that he's returning home to Las Vegas for this game should see him in better form. There is also help, with Rashaad Penny and his 16 touchdowns scores along with up-and-coming Juwan Washington. At quarterback is efficient Christian Chapman, who had a 19-to-6 TD/INT ratio and was solid in running this offense. His top aerial threat is Mikah Holder. It's just that at the end of the season, they had seemed to slipped some from their peak and they need to find it again to win this bowl game.
The San Diego State defense has been one of the more bizarre case-studies in college football this season. At first glance, everything seems normal enough—the 11th ranked unit nationally and giving up just 21 points a game. They led the nation in interceptions with 22, with Damontae Kazee and Derek Babiash leading the way in the secondary. But this defense has taken on different forms this season and isn't in their best way heading into this matchup. Going into the first Wyoming game late in the season, they had allowed only 42 combined points in their last 6 games. Their "D" was giving up practically nothing. But in their last three games, this same team has yielded a combined 121 points. And against a Houston offense that can do damage, how well can they be expected to perform in this bowl spot?
Houston didn't end the season that great with the loss to Memphis and like San Diego State, they saw a potentially-special season spoiled by losses that were hard to see coming. After a 5-0 start where they beat a high-ranked Oklahoma, they lost to Navy and then SMU by 22 as 24-point favorites. But there was a flip-side to that coin, as they still had enough late-season fire to beat Louisville as 17-point underdogs by a 36-10 score. Houston has been all over the place at times this season. Still, it's fair to say they were not at their best late in the season and the Louisville game was the only one they covered since September.
The Houston offense is led by Greg Ward, Jr., who threw for 3328 yards on the season with 22 TDs in the air and 9 more on the ground. Ward, Jr. was battered at times this season and had to overcome a physically-demanding stretch of games in 2016. The extra time off should also help some of the big guns on this offense to get their legs back a bit. The aerial package is well-stocked with good players like Linnel Bonner, Steven Dunbar, Chance Allen, and Tyler McCloskey. The run-game wasn't very much of a factor this season, but the Cougars still averaged 38 points a game.
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The Cougars defense would appear on the surface to match up well with the run-heavy SDSU offense. Houston's was ranked third in the nation is stopping the run. This is a part of the team that also looked a bit run-down at season's end, so maybe the rest will help. Still, this is a defense that did well against some pretty good offenses this season, including Oklahoma's and Louisville's—stopping two good running games in the process. But then they allowed a lot to Memphis and they just aren't that dependable. Both teams have been all over the board enough to make this a difficult game to appraise. The real playmakers on this defense were Steven Taylor, Tyus Bowser, Cameron Malveaux, and Ed Oliver in the front seven, with Howard Wilson making plays in the secondary.
Houston is without the coach that helped them revive the program. In addition, considering some of their high-profile wins this season and how they were ranked so highly at one point, a bowl game on the 17th was not what they had in mind. San Diego State ended the season in rough shape, as well, but at least no one was once talking about them as a potential CFP team. I just see San Diego State being in a less mentally-dilapidated state for this game, as they cover the spread in Las Vegas.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the San Diego State Aztecs plus 3 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Houston vs. San Diego State game by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!