Arizona Wildcats (10-3 SU, 5-8 ATS) vs. Boise State Broncos (11-2 SU, 9-4 ATS)
Vizio Fiesta Bowl
Date and Time: Wednesday, December 31, 2014 at 4:00PM EST
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
by Scott, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ARI -3/BSU +3
Over/Under Total: 69.5
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In the Vizio Fiesta Bowl, the 10th-ranked Arizona Wildcats will take on the 20th-ranked Boise State Broncos in Glendale, Arizona on December 24. Boise State is the highest-ranked team not from one of the big five conferences. Coming off an 11-win season, they earned a major bowl berth on the heels of a great season. Arizona also had a big season, beating a group of tough teams en route to 10 wins and a spot in the Pac-12 Conference championship.
First-year coach Bryan Harsin has whipped this Boise State team back close to its glory years of several seasons ago. Gunning for their 12th win, they are a heck of a team–they can run and throw the ball well and even play some defense. In their last game before this bowl game on December 6, they beat Fresno State, 28-14, to win the Mountain West Conference championship.
While Arizona didnt finish the season with a flourish, the Wildcats did a great job just getting to the conference title game against Oregon, a team they had previously beaten this season. The 51-13 loss was hard to swallow against a team they had beaten twice in a row. But running into a peaking Oregon team and coming up short doesnt undo the season they had, a true renaissance year under the stewardship of coach Rich Rodriguez.
The Broncos need to run the ball, which they usually dont have much trouble doing with RB Jay Ajayi. Once he gets rolling, QB Grant Hedrick can open up with the passing attack with some little trick plays thrown into the mix. Other players start getting involved. But it all starts with the running game and Ajayi is a monster with 1689 yards on the ground, 25 rushing touchdowns, and 4 more touchdowns through the air.
Senior quarterback Grant Hedrick has been solid this season. His accuracy is excellent, as he has completed 71% of his throws, along with 22 TD throws and 8 on the ground. He has 563 yards on the ground, showing he can use his wheels on occasion. His passing-attack is buoyed by Ajayi, who has caught 45 balls. Thomas Sperbeck, Shane Williams-Rhodes, and TE Jake Roh fill out a solid group. Offensively, they offer nice balance, being 26th in passing and 31st in rushing. Its good enough for an average of 40 points per game.
Boise States defense is pretty resilient against the run, usually holding opposing running backs to marginal output. In total defense, they are the 40th ranked group in the nation–pretty good for a team that relies heavily on offense. For the most part, this defense has allowed the offense to create distance from opponents. They lost their season opener to Ole Miss, meaning they enter this game with 11 wins in 12 games.
Arizona might be feeling some letdown with the way the season ended. They were right on the cusp, on the verge of big things if they could beat a team in Oregon they had beaten in their last two games. To go from that to facing Boise is a bit of a come-down. Arizona would be well-advised to approach this game with a maximum of urgency. Sure, Boise State hasnt beaten a ranked team this season, while Arizona beat three of them. The Broncos will be looking to end their season with a signature win and Arizona better not be caught sulking.
Rodriguez has really gotten this Arizona group into shape. Redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon has been fantastic and gives the Wildcats a lot of promise moving into the future. With 3458 yards, 27 touchdowns, and just 7 interception, he has been successful in moving this offense more often than not. While Ajayi may be the best running back on the field in this game, Arizonas top back in slouch in Nick Wilson, who has 1289 yards on 6 yards per scamper, along with 15 touchdowns. WR Cayleb Jones could be big in this game and has a knack for the big play. WR Samajie Grant is also a versatile weapon, as is WR Austin Hill. This offense has a nice cast of artillery.
Some of Arizonas defensive deficiencies came out at the wrong time this season, particularly in the area of pass-defense, where the Wildcats rank an atrocious 121st. Theyre not that much better against the run and are the 102nd-ranked defense in the nation. But they would have numbers more like Boise States defense if playing in the Mountain West and not the Pac-12. But 86 points allowed in their last two games is disturbing, especially now going against a Boise State team that can really pile on the points. At the same time, they have a cast of playmakers on defense, featuring top linebacker Scooby Wright.
In the past, Boise State was able to sneak up on some teams in high-profile spots, but those days are over. Boise State is the one team not from a power five conference that commands respect from a good team from a more-prominent conference. And Arizona isnt so accustomed to success that they would have any business approaching this game with any arrogance. I look for the Wildcats to dust themselves off and get back close to their peak form. I like Arizona.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Arizona Wildcats minus 3 points.