Miami v. Washington State
Sun Bowl Stadium — El Paso, TX
December 26, 2015 — 2:00 pm Eastern (CBS)
Why You Should Watch
Amazingly, this is the first ever time that these two schools will play in what we might consider calling the Dennis Erickson Bowl. After all, it was over two decades ago now that Erickson used his time in Pullman to launch his way into a national championship-winning gig in Dade County. Despite this game’s lower-tier status and off-the-beaten-path location, it sits alongside the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl as the second-oldest bowl games in the country behind only the Rose Bowl. While those other contests attract marquee status, this humble bowl game in west Texas soldiers on. It is a solid matchup of Power Five teams arriving in El Paso this season, which should make for an entertaining inaugural encounter between these two schools with a shared piece of history.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Miami had a rough go of it this season, firing head coach Al Golden after the worst loss in school history (58-0 at home to Clemson) on October 24. Under interim head coach Larry Scott, the Hurricanes went 4-1 down the stretch (only losing to division winner North Carolina) to secure a postseason berth after looking in danger of sitting out the month of December. Both the offense and the defense were much better when the ball was in the air than kept on the ground, while the Canes boast the sixth-best turnover margin in the country. This game will almost certainly be won or lost on the performance of quarterback Brad Kaaya, who threw for over 3000 yards this season but tossed only 15 touchdowns in the process. Staying disciplined will be of utmost importance in El Paso, as Miami ranked dead last in the country in penalties and penalty yardage per game.
Washington State Cougars
No team in the country had a better passing attack than Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense at Washington State. His starting quarterback, Luke Falk, threw for over 4000 yards this season — despite missing several games with a neck injury and a concussion. His backup, Peyton Bender, filled in against Colorado and Washington and threw for two yards shy of 500 in the limited work. Of course, passing is about all the Cougars do, as Wazzu ranked dead last in the country in rushing yards per game. While one-dimensional, Washington State was nevertheless able to rebound from a brutal opening loss against FCS Portland State to win eight games. Along the way they upset Oregon in Autzen Stadium, nearly knocked off Stanford in a two-point loss, and only lost by more than one score when Falk was sidelined for the Apple Cup. With a defense that grades at fair-to-poor, the Cougars are a team built for high-scoring shootouts.
What is Likely to Happen
Miami and Washington State are tied at 83rd nationally, with each team’s defense allowing 28.8 points per game. The Hurricanes have slightly better offensive balance, but with Falk returning from his late-season health scares the Cougars have the better gunslinger in this affair. Knowing that a new head coach is on the way, those players returning to Coral Gables next year might be interested in playing to impress Mark Richt. Mostly, though, Washington State should have the bigger motivation for this Texan encounter. Expect Wazzu to throw the ball at least 50 times, with Falk racking up over 400 yards of offense and at least four passing touchdowns. Kaaya will keep pace statistically for a while for Miami, but ultimately this is a showdown that the Cougars are likely to run away with as 2.5-point favorites.
Washington State 48, Miami 38
|2015-2016 SPORTS UNBIASED BOWL PREVIEWS:|
|DECEMBER 19-24: New Mexico | Las Vegas | Camellia | Cure | New Orleans | Miami Beach | Idaho Potato | Boca Raton | Poinsettia | GoDaddy | Bahamas | Hawai'i
DECEMBER 26-30: St. Petersburg | Sun | Heart of Dallas | Pinstripe | Independence | Foster Farms | Military | Quick Lane | Armed Forces | Russell Athletic | Arizona | Texas | Birmingham | Belk | Music City | Holiday
DECEMBER 31-JANUARY 11: Peach | Orange | Cotton | Outback | Citrus | Fiesta | Rose | Sugar | TaxSlayer | Liberty | Alamo | Cactus | CFP National Championship