#22 Utah v. Colorado State
Sam Boyd Stadium — Las Vegas, NV
December 20, 2014 — 3:30 pm Eastern (ABC)
Why You Should Watch
This is the first bowl game for a Power Five team, and it affords an interesting matchup to flip to opposite the New Mexico Bowl. This pairing used to be an annual Mountain West matchup before Utah moved to the Pac-12 in 2011, and they haven’t met since then. The Utes won the last five times they battled the Rams, and took seven of their last eight duels. Colorado State will be looking for vengeance — and their first 11-win season since winning the WAC in 1997. The Rams are statistically the better team, but they racked up those stats against far weaker competition. This is their biggest test of 2014 according to the Sagarin rankings, with Utah ranked one spot ahead of Boise State. So this game offers a referendum of sorts on just how strong the MWC Mountain and Pac-12 South really were this season.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Utah was very nearly a 10-win team themselves this season. Other than blowout losses to the Pac-12’s two division champions, Oregon and Arizona, the Utes fell by one point in a heartbreaker at home versus Washington State and then Arizona State to overtime in Tempe before falling by a field goal. They weren’t the flashiest of teams — unless you count Kaelin Clay dropping the ball before crossing the endzone against the Ducks. They scored 30 points on average per game, and the defense allowed 26. Their offense has been heavily skewed to the run this season, as quarterback Travis Wilson put up an inconsistent 2014 campaign. With Devontae Booker racking up 1350 yards on the ground for a unit that produced 176 rushing yards per game, though, the Utes were good enough to knock off UCLA, USC, and Stanford en route to eight wins.
Colorado State was oh-so-close and yet oh-so-far from claiming the Group of Five’s Access Bowl bid. The Rams averaged only five fewer rushing yards per game than Utah… but they also were ranked eighth nationally in passing offense, with quarterback Garrett Grayson throwing for nearly 3800 yards in the regular season and tossing 32 touchdowns. Their scoring offense and defense were far better than Utah’s, but that was thanks in part to a schedule that was ranked outside the top 100 in terms of overall strength. They did beat two Power Five schools this year, taking the Rocky Mountain Showdown against state rival Colorado in the opener at Mile High Stadium, and defeating Boston College on the road.
What is Likely to Happen
Last year Colorado State stunned another Pac-12 team with a New Mexico Bowl comeback. For Utah this showdown marks their first bowl appearance since the 2011 Sun Bowl. Usually in Power Five-versus-Group of Five showdowns, the result is largely determined by level of motivation. This one yields plenty of reasons for both sides to fight for the win, however, which should make for an exciting contest. Colorado State will be without head coach Jim McElwain, who was hired to replace Will Muschamp at Florida. But with stud tailback Dee Hart providing balance for an offense that also features otherworldly receiver Rashard Higgins, the Rams probably have more firepower than Utah can handle for four quarters.
Colorado State 38, Utah 28