Colorado State Rams (10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Utah Utes (8-4 SU, 8-4 ATS)
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
Date and Time: Saturday, December 20, 2014 at 3:30PM EST
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
by Scott, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CSU +4.5/UTAH -4.5
Over/Under Total: 58.5
On Saturday in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, the Colorado State Rams will take on the Utah Utes. The Rams are coming off an 10-2 season, where they were 6-2 in the Mountain West, losing only to Boise State and in their last game to Air Force, 27-24 on November 28. Utah is coming off a nice 8-4 campaign where they become a legitimate threat to win on any given week in the Pac-12.
Colorado State certainly had a fine record, but Utah played a tough schedule in the deep Pac-12 South, where 5 of the divisions 6 teams finished the regular season ranked in the top 25. They came up short against both Arizonas and to Oregon, as well as Washington State earlier in the season. But they beat both UCLA and USC this season. Throw in wins against Michigan, Oregon State, and Stanford, and this is really a good Utah team.
Colorado State lost on November 28, breaking a long 9-game winning streak. Coach JimMcElwain did such a fine job that he landed the Florida Gators head coaching job. That means the man responsible for bringing the Rams back to respectability will not be on the sidelines for this game, as the rest of his existing staff will have to bridge the gap. Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin will take over on an interim basis.
Colorado State posting a 10-win season heading into a decent bowl spot speaks volumes of where they have come as a program, not long ago serving as a WAC doormat. The Rams feature a high-octane aerial attack, accompanied by a well-balanced defense that has been capable across most areas of play. QB Garrett Grayson has been excellent, with 32 TD throws and only 6 picks, along with 3779 yards. He works with the conferences most prolific receiver in Rashard Higgins, who has 1640 yards and 17 touchdown receptions. The passing attack is replete with speedy and productive contributors. At running back, standout Dee Hart has scored 16 touchdowns on 1254 yards rushing on nearly 7 yards per run. This is an offense that has tools. However, its a little different running over guys in the Mountain West than it is mowing down the big boys in the Pac-12.
Utah relies on quarterback Travis Wilson to spread the ball around to his playmakers. And Wilson has been efficient, if not explosive, with 17 TD throws and just 4 picks. The Utes feature a bruising back in Devontae Booker, who has 1350 yards on the ground, along with 39 pass receptions. The passing game is led by a cabaret approach with different players, all of whom get their fair share of touches.
Utahs defensive stats this year are mediocre at best. Its important to note that the Utes have spent the bulk of their 2014 season playing high-powered offenses in the Pac-12 South. If they had played in the Mountain West, they would certainly be better than 91st against the pass and 57th against the run, while being the 74th ranked defense in the country. Still, there are occasions this season where this defense has been more than serviceable, holding Michigan to 10 points, USC to 21 points, and Arizona State to 19 points.
Colorado State will test Utahs leaky pass-defense with Grayson and Company. They have scored an average of 36 points per game, while allowing just 23 per game. Their defense has been fairly clutch. Of their ten wins, a handful of those games were close, with Colorado States defense nearly always coming up big. And with this being a road game, it helps that the Rams have shown they can play well when away from home. But theyre nothing compared to Utah, who was 5-1 on the road this season, winning in environments like Michigan, UCLA, Oregon State, and Stanford.
Whereas Utah fared well while being fed one tough opponent after the next, Colorado State did not face a ranked opponent all season. And the two times where they came close, they lost to good teams like Boise State and Air Force. Thats not to suggest that Colorado State is not up to snuff, but this is a jump in class, of sorts. Utah is the battle-tempered team that has shown they can compete at this level.
Utah seemed to peter-out a bit at the end of the season, dropping 3 of their last 5 after a 6-1 start. But they still made strides this season, emerging from the status of conference afterthought. And Colorado not having the man who brought them to this point cant help, though it might not hurt as much as some might think. From a football standpoint, Utahs talent and resume is just a small cut above, which will enable them to notch the win and cover in a good, competitive game.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Utah Utes minus 4.5 points.