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 Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: HOU -3/SDSU +3
Over/Under Total: 55
The Houston Cougars take on the San Diego Aztecs on December 17 in the Las Vegas Bowl from Sam Boyd Stadium. Both teams had some big success this season with a few unexpected letdowns along the way. The Aztecs became Mountain West Champions after winning the conference game, 27-24, over Wyoming. Houston ended their regular season on November 25 with a 48-44 loss to Memphis, finishing 4-3 in their last 7 games. After opening the season with a win over very highly-ranked Oklahoma, they expected more, but look to end the season with ten wins.
Houston has a few different things at play here, first with a possible letdown scenario and the exit of head coach Tom Herman, who brought this program back to relevance in the last two seasons, but will not be on the sidelines for this game. Things were a little up-and-down late in the season for the Cougars. After a 5-0 start where the hopes were high, they lost to Navy and two weeks later, lost to SMU by 22 as 23.5-point favorites. In those two losses they missed the spread by a combined 66.5 points. But right before losing to Memphis, they were able to dominate Louisville 36-10 as 17-point underdogs, making a mockery of that point spread by a whopping 43 points. It was the only point spread they covered since September. In other words, the Cougars became one of the more schizophrenic teams in the country over the last half of their season.
The Houston rushing defense is ranked third in the nation, which would seem to be a nice matchup component to have when facing the San Diego State run-heavy offense. The break between their last game and this bowl appearance perhaps let some weary bodies on ďDĒ get some well-needed rest. This is a defense that has done well against some pretty ballyhooed offenses this season. The dynamic Oklahoma run-game got nowhere against this bunch, while a few weeks ago, Houstonís ďDĒ was really tip-top, holding front-running Heisman candidate Lamar Jackson to 33 yards on 25 runs. At the same time, against Memphis, they allowed 555 yards of total offense and werenít all that robust on the ground. Again, having some extra time could help. Still, this season, theyíve applied a pass rush, scored on a few occasions, and made a big difference in spots. Among the standouts are Steven Taylor (9 sacks), Tyus Bowser (8 sacks), Ed Oliver (5 sacks), Howard Wilson (5 interceptions, 1 TD), and Cameron Malveaux.
The Houston offense was pretty solid for most of the season, led by a really good college QB in Greg Ward, Jr. With 3328 yards passing, Ward threw 22 touchdowns, also leading he team in rushing with 9 TD runs to boot. The run-game didnít always deliver for the Cougars. Aerially, itís a different story with a stocked cast of ball-catchers with Linnel Bonner (probable), Chance Allen, Steven Dunbar, and Tyler McCloskey. The layoff should also help the smaller Ward, Jr., who was banged up at times this year. Houston averaged 38 points a game this season.
San Diego State had their own issues to end the season, dropping 2 straight before winning the conference title in a tough road test against a Wyoming team that had beaten them a few weeks previously. When SDSU fell this season, they fell hard, losing to South Alabama, Colorado State, and Wyoming, all as double-digit favorites. But the win over Wyoming showed a lot of character and suggested that the Aztecs have a little life in their legs at this point in the season.
The San Diego State offense relies on the run. He didnít close the season in his best form, but Donnel Pumphrey was over 2000 yards and looks to hit this matchup with fresher legs. Helping Pumphrey was Rashaad Penny, a versatile threat who scored 16 touchdowns this season, along with Juwan Washington. Both Penny and Pumphrey were also both useful aerially, a big help to QB Christian Chapman. On the season, Chapman threw 19 TDs against just 6 picks with speedy Oceanside product Mikah Holder his key weapon through the air. They were the 7th most-productive rushing offense in the country this season, though this side of the ball seemed to be operating at a lower gear late in the season.
The San Diego State defense was the 11th ranked unit in the nation this season. They are better against the run than the pass. On the season, they allowed an average of just 21 points per game. But they were very streaky. Heading into the first Wyoming game several weeks ago, they had allowed an astoundingly-low 42 combined points in their previous 6 games. In their last three games, this team has allowed 121 combined points. Granted, the level of their competition went up, but a defense that was really showing its teeth in mid-season did in fact seem to lose some of its effectiveness late in the season. Still, maybe they can rediscover the form that saw them score a handful of touchdowns, while picking off 22 passes, which was best in the nation. Damontae Kazee and Derek Babiash made plays in the secondary all season.
This is a tough one to call, with both teams having shown a wide range of form to end the season. Now, Houston is without their coach, something that can resonate a few different ways. I see Houston something less than totally fired up for this. SDSU back Donnel Pumphrey saw his legs become weary late in the season and now back at home in his stomping grounds in Vegas and rested, I see him having a big game, as the Aztecs cover the spread.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Iím betting on the San Diego State Aztecs plus 3 points.
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