Akron v. Utah State
Albertson’s Stadium — Boise, ID
December 22, 2015 — 3:30 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
If you already got that WatchESPN app working for the Miami Beach Bowl on Monday, you’re ahead of the game. At the very least, Utah State didn’t come to Boise for conference play this season, instead defeating Boise State 52-26 in Logan earlier this season. After a season that showed so much promise, the Aggies once again lost their heart-and-soul quarterback and soldiered on gamely just to reach bowl eligibility. On the other sideline, it has been a decade since the Zips made it to the postseason. One of these teams is going to be far more motivated than the other on the Smurf Turf in Idaho, which should level the playing field in terms of talent and effort. Usually what ensues in such situations are surprise instant classics, so make sure to check in on this one.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
After a decade of futility, there were high hopes entering the season in Akron. The Zips didn’t disappoint, securing a winning record and a bowl invite for the first time since their upset of Northern Illinois in the 2005 MAC championship game. Akron mainly got it done with defense, finishing third nationally against the run and in the top 30 in both total yards and total points allowed. The Zips were also tied for 18th in turnover margin, though they did benefit by avoiding all three of the top MAC West teams in the regular season. Terry Bowden has done an admirable job coaching this team into the postseason, though they were hardly a disciplined team in 2015 (ranked in the bottom 20 in both penalties and penalty yards per game). If Akron is going to defeat Utah State in Boise three days before Christmas, they will have to lean heavily on an offense that chews up time of possession.
Utah State Aggies
A third straight star-crossed season for oft-injured USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton couldn’t be weathered in 2015 quite as well as the Aggies had survived the previous two campaigns. Despite the injury, though, Utah State still managed to finish tied for third place in the MWC Mountain standings, a seven-point defeat at Air Force the difference between winning and losing the division. The Aggies were solid in preventing opponents from gaining too much yardage (especially through the air, which is already not a strong suit for Akron), though it did not necessarily translate to low scores and tons of victories. Matt Wells’ team backed into its fifth straight postseason, losing three of its final four regular-season games to fall out of conference contention. Akron is hardly the type of opponent that will boost USU’s visibility entering the offseason, and thus Wells and his crew will have to find ways to build motivation.
What is Likely to Happen
Even though it is their third trip to play a bowl game in Boise in the past five seasons, Utah State brings a far better offense to Idaho than Akron can field. That said, the Zips might very well have a better defense. This game is likely going to boil down to a low-scoring affair, with the two teams feeling one another out early before finding the endzone shortly before halftime. Both offenses are going to find it hard to move the ball with any regularity, and it will take some big plays to crack the scoreboard. Utah State will take the field as a 6.5-point favorite, which might end up being a hard task to achieve. Look for Akron to beat the spread but still end up as the vanquished party once the final whistle echoes off the Smurf Turf.
Utah State 17, Akron 13
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