Colorado State Rams (7-5 SU, 6-5-1 ATS) vs. Nevada Wolf Pack (6-6 SU, 7-4-1 ATS)
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl
Date/Time: Tuesday, December 29, 2015 at 7:30PM EST
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona
TV: Campus Insiders
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CSU -3/NEV +3
Over/Under Total: 56
Colorado State will face Nevada in the inaugural Arizona Bowl, played in Tucson at Arizona Stadium on the 29th. Its an interesting game between Mountain West teams who did not play each other this season. Colorado State was 7-5 on the season, while Nevada was 6-6. Both teams last played on November 28 and will have a little over a month to prep for this game. Colorado State won 4 straight games to get to this spot, including a 34-31 road win at Fresno in their last game. Nevada has less momentum going into this, with two losses to end the season, including a 31-14 loss to San Diego State in their last game.
Nevada still should be pumped up for this, having won one bowl game since the 2004-05 season. A win over FCS opponent UC Davis opened the season, before they served as cannon fodder to Arizona and Texas A&M. They won at Buffalo, but losses to UNLV and Wyoming, teams who ended up a combined 5-19, had Nevada looking ragged and ineffective. Three straight wins in conference play righted the ship, before season-ending losses to Utah State and SDSU. The best teams they beat this season were New Mexico and San Jose State. For the schedule they had, 6-6 isnt particularly good.
Colorado State was in their first season without head coach Jim McElwain, who helped bring this team up with a 10-win season last season. His absence seemed to be missed dearly as the season began 3-5. Theyve played a bit of a tougher conference schedule and have higher-quality wins with victories over Air Force and New Mexico. They fell hard to the better teams in the conference, getting beaten conclusively to Utah State, Boise State, and San Diego State. But with 4 straight wins to end the season, including 3 covers, they certainly look the better team heading into bowl season.
The drawbacks in comparing common opponents are multifold. But for what its worth, Nevada and Colorado State both played San Diego State, Utah State, UNLV, Wyoming, Fresno State, and New Mexico. Against those 6 common opponents, the Rams were 4-2, outscoring that group of teams, 172-166. Nevada was 2-4 against those same six teams, outscored 146-144. Add to that the superior momentum that Colorado State has coming into this game, its safe to say Colorado State is a little bit better and thats reflected in the fact theyre favored by three points.
Quarterback Nick Stevens leads the CSU attack. The Murrieta, California product had a good sophomore season, with 21 TD passes and two on the ground. Hes had issues with his accuracy in some games, as well as turnovers. But hes gotten better and more precise as the season carried into its late stages. He has a nice receiver in Rashard Higgins, who had 65 receptions, in addition to a nice cast of playmakers who step up from time to time. Its a middling aerial attack, with their ground game more of the difference-making component of the team. Its led by a three-pronged attack, led by Dalyn Dawkins, Jasen Oden, and Izzy Matthews. This offense averages a smidge over 30 points a game.
Colorado States defense has been pretty stout against the pass, ranked 20th in the country with 186 yards per game on average, which is pretty darn good. But as the 120th-ranked running defense, they are giving up an alarming average of 208 yards per game on the ground. And against a run-heavy Nevada team, that could become a major issue. And thats not an area that seems to be getting better late in the season. If anything, its been worseeven during this latest 4-game win streak.
Nevada junior Tyler Stewart commandeers the Nevada-Reno offense and has been serviceable, while not terribly impactful. The Nevada aerial attack is led by a pair of 700-yard receivers in Jerico Richardson and Hasaan Henderson, but the passing-game pales in comparison to the ground-attack. Nevada is led by a pair of 1000-yard rushers in James Butler and Don Jackson. Stewart himself has added 4 TDs on the ground. At 26.1 points per game, they are ranked 87th. But before losing their last game to a 10-win SDSU team, they had scored at least 30 points in four straight games.
Defensively, the Wolf Pack have some things in common with their opponents. Though not as good against the pass as CSU, they are pretty good in that area. And while not as bad as CSU against the run, theyre pretty porous in that area, giving up an average of over 189 yards per game. In allowing an average of 27.1 points per game, the Wolf Pack have given up more points than theyve scored this season.
Colorado State enters this game with better momentum and on paper; they seem like the slightly better team. But Nevada is deceptively scrappy, as their four non-covers in 12 games somewhat attest. Colorado State will get theirs, but I see Nevada controlling stretches of the game with their run-game and hanging in there for the cover and possible straight-up win.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Nevada Wolf Pack plus 3 points.
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