When: Tuesday, December 29, 7:30 pm ET
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona
Broadcast: Campus Insiders Livestream
The inaugural NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl pits two Mountain West teams against each other: The Nevada Wolf Pack and the Colorado State Rams. While they're in the same conference, the two teams did not face off against each other, being in different divisions. The Rams (7-5) went finished fifth in the tougher Mountain Division, despite going 5-3 in the conference. The Wolf Pack (6-6) finished second in the West Division while only going .500 through conference play. Here's how the two teams stack up.
Colorado State Rams
The Rams feature one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the Mountain West. With QB Nick Stevens and star WR Rashard Higgins, Colorado State boasts the third-ranked passing attack in the conference. On the ground, the Rams platoon the running back position between sophomore Dalyn Dawkins, senior Jasen Oden Jr., and freshman Izzy Matthews. Combined, the trio rushed for over 2,000 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Rams biggest weakness is stopping the run. They have the fifth best scoring defense in the conference, and the fourth best pass defense. However, the Rams fall to ninth in the conference in rushing defense. But it will need to step up to stop the Wolf Pack's strong rushing attack.
Nevada Wolf Pack
The Wolf Pack's offense revolves completely around their running game. They have two 1,000-yard rushers in Don Jackson and James Butler, as well as the fourth best rushing offense in the conference. While their ground game has been electric, the passing attack has not been good, to put it nicely. QB Tyler Stewart has only surpassed 200-yard mark five times this season. While he hasn't thrown for many yards, Stewart has been a very good game manager for the Pack. He's only thrown 7 interceptions, and has a 124.3 passer rating.
But with offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich off to Hawaii, wide receivers coach Jim Hofher has been promoted to play calling duties. It will be worth watching whether Hofher shifts away from the outdated pistol offense, and tries to pass it a bit more.
On the other side of the ball, Nevada is fairly average. They are solid against the run with seniors Rykeem Yates, Ian Seau and Lenny Jones along the defensive line. Altogether the front seven features seven seniors. The secondary is significantly younger, with multiple freshman making significant contributions.
Colorado State: WR Joe Hansley
At 5-foot-10 Joe Hansley is not your prototypical red-zone threat. However, the small receiver has been one of the most productive players for the Rams in that part of the field. Despite only catching 26 passes on the season, Hansley caught six touchdowns this season. To compare, Rashard Higgins caught 66 balls, but only eight touchdowns. Once the Rams get into the red-zone, they need to score touchdowns and they will be looking for Hansley as much as Higgins in that area.
Nevada: WR Hasaan Henderson
While Nevada's passing attack may not be very explosive, they have been able to break a few big plays. The center of those plays? Hasaan Henderson. The junior wideout has fantastic size at 6-foot-5, and has made some jaw-dropping catches. If Henderson could have a big game, it could add a dimension to the Wolf Pack offense that has rarely been seen this season.
I think overall Colorado State is a better team, but not by all that much. The reason I'm taking the Rams is because Nevada is famously bad in important games. In football alone, the Wolf Pack have played in 12 modern bowl games. They've won three of those games. As a school, Nevada struggles in big games. Until the streak is definitely broken, I'm picking against them in important games.