Washington State Cougars (8-4) versus Minnesota Gophers (8-4)
Wednesday, December 28, 2016 at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
Betting odds: Washington State -6.5, o/u 60
In the annuls of NCAA Football bowl game history, the Holiday Bowl holds a special place in the hearts of people who remember the great shootouts in San Diego. That includes the 1980s and early 1990s when BYU was a regular participant and brought in some of those great QBs, including Steve Young and Jim McMahon. With regular tie-ins to the Pac 12 and Big 10 conferences now in place, the game’s landscape has changed a bit, but it’s still a favorite among football fans. The year’s edition features the Pac 12’s Washington State Cougars and the Big 10’s Minnesota Gophers.
According to the latest bowl odds, Washington State is a 6.5-point favorite over Minnesota with a total set of 60 points. Check out our bowl predictions where we pick the straight up winner of all 40 games.
Washington State Cougars – After two losses to open the season, Washington State faced the prospects of a bad season if they couldn’t right the ship. Behind the nation’s 6th-best passing offense (370 YPG), the Cougars picked themselves up off the mat and rattled off eight straight victories to assure a spot in the post season. Unfortunately, they closed out the season with losses to the Colorado Buffaloes and the Washington Huskies, arguably the two best teams in the conference.
Much of the credit for the team’s success belongs to Senior QB Luke Falk, who ranked #4 in the nation for passing yards with 4,204 to go along with 37 touchdown passes against only 10 interceptions. While none of his receivers really stood out, the team ended up with seven players catching passes for at least 300 yards and 10 diffeent players catching a touchdown pass.
In the backfield, Washington State rotated players, which accounts for the fact the team had three players with between 449 and 575 yards rushing, led by Sophomore James Williams, who had 573 yards rushing and 5 TDs. Gerald Wicks was used as the team’s battering ram on short yardage plays where he was able to cross the goal-line on 11 different occasions.
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Minnesota Gophers – In a season where they were able to avoid playing both Ohio State and the Michigan Wolverines, the Gophers took advantage of a weak schedule to earn enough wins to get the invite to this game. All four of the team’s losses came against bowl game invitees, clearly indicating they sat a notch below the best in the conference and the country.
Looking at the team’s stats, it’s hard to identify anyone who made an extraordinary contribution to the team’s success. The offense ended up ranked 198th in total offense with just under 364 YPG. Truth be told, Senior starting QB Mitch Leidner struggled all season, passing for 2040 yards and only 7 TDs against 12 interceptions.
With limited talent at QB and on the outside, the Gophers played smash-mouth football to control the clock and keep opponent’s offenses off the field. Junior Running back Rodney Smith put forth a solid effort over most of the season, rushing for a 1,084 yards and 15 touchdowns. With a defense that was giving up almost 23 PPG, it was shrewd that the Gophers masked its talent issues behind an ultra-conservative game plan.
Game Analysis: On paper, these two teams are closely matched on defense with the offensive edge going to the Washington State Cougars. When looking at the betting odds and trying to make predictions, it’s important to look at the team with the best offense and try to decide if the other team is going to be able to stop them. The guess here is the Gophers may struggle a great deal against the Cougars’ vaunted passing attack.
The best chance the Gophers have is to do what they did all year long: keep the ball on the ground, grind out the clock and hope that the Cougars don’t come up with enough big plays early to take Minnesota out of that exact game plan. Therein lies the problem for the Gophers. Falk does a great job of spreading the ball around and is more than capable of delivering the ball down-field for quick scores. It just doesn’t feel like the Gophers are going to be able to keep pace, which should find them playing from well behind for most of the afternoon.
Predictions: Look for Washington State to exploit a secondary that has had its issues this season. If the Cougars can force the ball into Leidner’s hands, it could be a long afternoon for the Gophers as the Cougars easily cover the spread. Washington State 38 – Minnesota 20