Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4 SU, 5-3 ATS) vs. No. 23 Washington State Cougars (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS)
National Funding Holiday Bowl Game
Date/Time: Tuesday, December 27, 2016 7:00PM EST (4:00PM PST)
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA.
by Wilson, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MINN +6.5/WSU -6.5
Over/Under Total: OFF
The Washington State Cougars (2nd in Pac 12 North) will go head to head versus the Minnesota Golden Gophers (4th in Big Ten West) in this year’s National Funding Holiday Bowl. For the Cougs this will be their most prestigious bowl game they've played in since 2003. Although some may view this bowl game as a letdown for Washington State since they just played for a chance to compete in the Pac 12 Championship Game but got blown out by In-State Rival University of Washington Huskies 45-17 in the annual Apple Cup. The No. 4 Huskies went on to throttle No. 10 Colorado Buffaloes to win the Pac 12 and earn a date with No. 1 Alabama on New Year’s Eve for a chance to play in the National Championship Game. The Cougars have set aside their frustrations and despite not getting a shot at the Rose Bowl and they are excited to be playing in San Diego in the post season. Can the Golden Gophers play with the high octane Coug’s Air Raid offense? Minnesota also has 8 wins entering this contest and should make for a competitive opponent especially if they can put pressure on WSU QB Luke Falk.
Minnesota finished the season smack in the middle of the Big Ten West with a 5-4 conference record and 8-4 overall record. The Gophers come in with a balanced attack on offense—just 10 yards separate their ground game from their passing game (186 rushing yards per game, 177 passing yards per game). The QB battle in this contest is heavily favored by WSU’s dynamic junior QB Luke Falk, who has been on and off the Heisman watch throughout his collegiate career. Falk’s numbers crush those of his Gopher QB counterpart, senior Mitch Leider. Even though the Gophers run their offense differently than the Coug’s, Leider’s QB stats are still dismal compared to Falk’s. Minnesota’s Leider threw for 2040 yards, 7 TDs, and 12 INTs. WSU’s Falk threw for 4204 yards, 37 TDs, and 10 INTs. This QB matchup appears lopsided but we must take into account that the Gophers run the ball more than they pass. The question will be which defense will hold and which will break? WSU’s defense allows 27 points per game to Minnesota’s 23 and this might be the difference in this contest—with the spread currently at 6.5—the books are not too far off, as usual.
The Cougars had a slow start to the season losing to Eastern Washington University at home and then another loss at Boise State. However, the Cougs rallied and went on an 8-game winning streak. During the streak WSU destroyed both Oregon (51-33) and Stanford (42-16), and their highest scoring game was at home when they shellacked the Arizona Wildcats 69-7! The Golden Gophers didn’t exactly surprise a lot of teams as they were expected to be a decent squad this year and they won games they were supposed to win, but nor did they upset anyone either—3 of their 4 losses were against ranked teams (Penn State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska). According to ESPN’s Football Power Index the WSU Cougars have a 70.5 percent advantage overall which seems a bit inflated considering all the numbers but the biggest difference is the nearly 150 yards more of total offense per game the Cougars average (497 yds.) compared to Minnesota (368 yds.).
This will be Minnesota’s 5th bowl game in as many years. The Cougs have been to 12 bowl games total, with a 7-5 record, and the most recent bowl appearance coming last year in a win over Miami 20-14 at the Sun Bowl. The Gophers played in the 2015 QUICK LANE BOWL where they beat Central Michigan 21-14. This bowl game is a great gift for both programs as they earned the luxury of playing football by the beach surrounded by palm trees in Southern California. I think it goes without question that the Big Ten is the tougher conference this year with the likes of Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, and Iowa. The Pac 12 has No. 4 Washington and No. 9 USC, No. 10 Colorado, and Utah, but Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA were all down this year which opened the door for the Cougars to make a good run—despite Minnesota playing arguably, in a more challenging conference, I think the Cougars will be the better team in this bowl game.
WSU’s QB Luke Falk, and WR Gabe Marks are the difference in this game—look for these two players to hookup for potentially their last collegiate game (both should be playing on Sundays soon). I like the Cougars straight up.
Wilson's Pick to win straight up: The Cougars straight up. Luck to ya.
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