The famous blue turf will once again take center stage during this year’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl between the BYU Cougars and Western Michigan Broncos. The action gets started at 4:00 EST on Friday, December 21, at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Fans can catch all the action on ESPN.
Oddsmakers list the Cougars as 12-point favorites over WMU. The over/under for the game is set at 48.5 points. Click here for a full list of betting odds for this year’s bowl games.
One year after seeing their 12-year bowl streak snapped, BYU is back in the postseason. Of course, the Cougars barely became bowl eligible after finishing the season 6-6. Despite an upset over Wisconsin early in the year that briefly put the Cougars into the top-25, it was a rough season for BYU. The Cougars struggled to find consistency and lost rivalry games to both Utah State and Utah. They now need to win their bowl game to avoid finishing with a losing record for a second consecutive season.
Western Michigan also heads to a bowl game somewhat disappointed in their season. After a 0-2 start, the Broncos rattled off six wins in a row and looked like serious contenders in the MAC West division. But that was before starting quarterback Jon Wassink was lost to a season-ending injury. Without Wassink, WMU lost three of their last four games. However, the Broncos pulled off an upset over Northern Illinois in their season finale to finish 7-5 and 5-3 in MAC play. That win guaranteed Western Michigan a bowl game for the fourth time in the last five years.
This will be the sixth all-time meeting between BYU and Western Michigan. But believe it or not, it’ll be the first time they’ve seen one another since 1970. For what it’s worth, the Broncos won that game at home in Kalamazoo 35-17.
Given BYU’s inconsistency this season, especially on the offensive side of the ball, this is a lot of points to cover. The Cougars will need to be at their best on both sides of the ball to cover this spread. I have some doubts about that happening. In my opinion, taking Western Michigan and the points is the safer bet for this game.
To be fair, the Cougars had several lopsided wins this season, all of which happened after freshman Zach Wilson took over at quarterback. He provided a much-needed spark for an offense that was stuck in neutral early in the year. However, scoring 35-plus points and winning comfortably against teams like UMass and New Mexico State should be taken with a grain of salt.
I still have some lingering concerns about the BYU offense. Smith was solid late in the season, but he’s still lacking experience. That was evident against some of the better teams the Cougars faced late in the season. That being said, I don’t consider Western Michigan to be a great defensive team. However, they’ll have a long time to watch film on him, so I expect the Broncos to be ready for Smith and throw some things at the young quarterback that he hasn’t seen.
There are also some questions about the BYU rushing attack, which was average at best for most of the season. Leading rusher Lopini Katoa is questionable after missing the season finale with an injury. Key reserve Matt Hadley has also been ruled out for the bowl game. On the bright side, senior Squally Canada is set to return for the Potato Bowl. However, he struggled for much of the season despite an impressive junior campaign in 2017. If the Cougars can’t establish some semblance of a running game, it’ll be tough for them to score enough points to cover the 12-point spread.
There’s also a good chance that BYU will have to score a lot of points just to win this game. Despite losing Wassink late in the year, the Broncos averaged over 33 points per game this season. Wassink’s backup, Kaleb Eleby, got some good experience late in the season and actually had his best game against a stout Northern Illinois defense in the season finale. The Broncos also have a couple of big-play receivers in Jayden Reed and D’Wayne Eskridge. The Cougars also can’t forget about running back LeVante Ballamy, who led the MAC in rushing this year.
In fairness, the BYU defense is a strong unit, giving up less than 22 points per game this season. Keep in mind that happened against a schedule that included five power conference teams and Boise State. However, against teams with real offensive talent, the Cougars didn’t always hold up well. I would definitely say that Western Michigan has real offensive talent, even with a backup quarterback.
Ultimately, I can’t overlook the fact that BYU averaged just 25 points per game this season. They may be able to top that against WMU, but I also don’t think they’ll be able to keep the Broncos under wraps all game either. BYU may win the game, but I have a hard time believing that they’ll cover the 12-point spread.