Houston vs San Diego State
Sam Boyd Stadium,
Las Vegas, ND.
Arguably one of the most attractive match ups of the 2016 bowl season comes during this opening weekend (BT/ESPN 830pm) featuring two teams coming off excellent campaigns, of whom one will undoubtedly look back at what could have been.
Following last season’s American Athletic Conference title and subsequent defeat of Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, the consensus could see no one other than Tom Herman’s Cougars repeating in 2016. With Herman lured to the magnet that is Texas and for what looked like a more than realistic chance at making the college football playoffs thanks to an explosive 5 straight victories and upset of #7 Oklahoma to open the campaign, inconsistency set it in at times following a heavy defeat at Navy. The result was a 4th place AAC West berth, still boasting an impressive 9-3 record in what turned out to be one of America’s toughest and most resurgent of conferences.
San Diego State
Impressive head coach Rocky Long’s Aztecs extended their unbeaten run of successive victories to 13, with what looked a more than probable, record breaking unbeaten season, only to fall to South Alabama on the road in week 4 before putting together a 6 game win streak. For the second successive campaign a10-3 record was enough to secure San Diego State’s a Mountain West West division title and back to back conference title, seeing off Wyoming 27-24 just two weeks ago.
Players to Watch
With the outstanding Tom Herman now in Austin, despite their impressive talent the Aztecs will smell their opportunity in this one, powered by the outstanding, school record breaking
#19 RB Donnel Pumphrey. The senior tailback, controversially shunned by Heisman voters this season, smashed Marshall Faulk’s school career rushing yard record in the week two defeat of California. Throughout this season he has held the lead for the most active rushing yards, most all-purpose points for a non-kicker, along with leading the Aztecs in receptions, underlining his outstanding all-around game. A smaller talent at the position (5’9, 180lbs) whose on-field approach belies his stature, Pumphrey can pound the ball between the tackles, hit the outside in a hurry and catch the ball from a variety of positions. This Saturday, the Las Vegas native returns home with the the chance to be surpass the great Ron Dayne’s long standing FBS career rushing record, currently standing at 6,397. Just 108 yards short of his dream, Pumphrey’s ambition is a fascinating storyline for a player who knows little else than breaking records. He will take the field at the Sam Boyd Stadium having already amassed an eye-popping 2,018 yards rushing (16 touchdowns) in this his final year with the program. The Las Vegas native has fought tooth and nail to be recognised and given a chance to play the game, facing adversity and countless knock backs to play the game he loves. Constantly written off, Pumphrey can etch his name in college football history.
On the opposite side of the field, keep an eye on explosive #1 QB Greg Ward Jr, whose ability as a passer from the pocket has impressed as much as his devastating running ability this season. He has shown the capability of standing tall in the pocket, while his bravery cannot be doubted, taking the hit and making throws with touch and poise despite seeing the inevitable punishment coming his way, stepping up and climbing the ladder to make the life of his wide receivers that much simpler with much improved placement and accuracy, as his 68% completion rate attests. A dangerous weapon with his legs, particularly in short yardage situations, where he found the end zone no less than nine times.
First year DT #10 Ed Oliver has been simply outstanding as one of the finest defensive linemen in all of college football, at a position where it is rare for a freshman to even make the team. #41 LB Steven Taylor is another standout amongst a plethora of stars on this Cougars team, the conference leader in sacks a year ago who has reached those same heights as a senior (8.5 sacks, 11 TFL) standing out as a destructive playmaker around the edge and against both the run and pass.
Houston. While Houston will still be reeling from losing their much loved head coach as was in evidence in their final outing of the season in defeat to Memphis, they still possess such excellent talent that when all is done will edge out a very strong San Diego State team. Just.
San Diego State were named conference champions having beaten both Air Force a year ago and Wyoming this by the same score, 27-24.