There are 35 bowl games. Here's everything you need to know about one of them.
Adam Muema rushed for 1,355 yards on 6.4 per carry, despite splitting time in the backfield. (US Presswire)
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BYU Cougars (7-5)
For some perspective on the kind of year it's been for BYU, consider that at one point this season, the Cougar defense held opposing offenses out of the end zone in an astonishing 13 consecutive quarters over a span of four games. And yet, in the same span, they lost two of those four games as well as one of their quarterbacks, freshman Taysom Hill, to a season-ending injury while attempting to kneel out the clock. As good as the Cougars were defensively – and they were very, very good, finishing among the top five nationally in both yards and points allowed – they were almost equally bad on offense, especially when faced with decent competition: In five games against opponents that finished with winning records, BYU averaged 12.8 points, managed just nine touchdowns and turned in a 1-4 record.
At Their Best. On Oct. 27, the Cougars ground Georgia Tech's triple-option attack to a complete, thudding halt, limiting the Yellow Jackets to a grand total of 157 yards in a 41-17 rout. For the game, Tech held the ball for just 21 minutes, finished 0-for-10 on third down and failed to score an offensive touchdown for the first and only time in Paul Johnson's tenure as head coach.
At Their Worst. The offense had its share of dismal afternoons (see above), but the defense only cracked once, in a 41-24 loss to Oregon State. Making his first career start, on the road, Beaver quarterback Cody Vaz turned the game into an unexpected turkey shoot, carving up the BYU secondary for 332 yards and three touchdowns.
Headliner. Linebacker Ezekiel Ansah wasn't the most productive player on paper (that distinction would belong to his counterpart on the outside, Kyle Van Noy), but scouts inevitably flipped for the 6'6", 270-pound senior, a native of Ghana, Africa, who finally began to tap his potential as a senior after years of soccer, basketball and track. Prior to emerging as a full-time starter this fall, Ansah was a virtual unknown who had barely set foot on a field in an actual game. By next April, there's a good chance he'll find an NFL team willing to take a chance on him in the first round.
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San Diego State Aztecs (9-3; 7-1 Mtn. West)
If you were caught off guard by San Diego State's run to the Mountain West title, you're in good company: It took most of the Mountain West by surprise, too. A month into the season, the Aztecs were 2-3 overall and already afterthoughts in the MWC race following a loss in their conference opener. From there, they quietly strung together a seven-game winning streak to close the regular season, most of the rally – including startling road upsets at Nevada and Boise State – coming after a season-ending injury to the starting quarterback, senior Ryan Katz. Like the rest of the league, the Aztecs made their living on the ground, where tailbacks Adam Muema and Walter Kazee combined for 2,177 yards and 24 touchdowns and carried the offense in Katz's absence.
At Their Best. Nowhere was the Aztecs' resourcefulness more apparent than in the season-defining, 21-19 upset at Boise State, a win fueled by defense and special teams: Boise managed just 276 yards of total offense, and two of San Diego State's three touchdowns came as the direct result of a kickoff return and a blocked punt. The victory was the first road win over a ranked opponent in school history.
At Their Worst. The defense wasn't always at the top of its game, and never less so than in a September loss at Fresno State, where FSU quarterback Derek Carr set Mountain West records for completions (42) and total offense (579 yards) in a 52-40 shootout. That was the third consecutive game in which SDSU allowed at least 38 points in regulation, and the last.
Headliner. If Thursday night is your first glimpse of senior cornerback Leon McFadden, it won't be your last: A three-time All-Mountain West pick, McFadden is tabbed as a likely third or fourth-round pick in next April's draft, and can improve his stock by shutting down another future pro, 6-foot-4 BYU receiver Cody Hoffman.
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What: Poinsettia Bowl.
When: Thursday, Dec. 20 • 8 p.m. ET • ESPN.
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego.
Weird: Between regular season trips against its old conference rival and postseason trips to the Holiday Bowl, BYU has played 25 games in Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium in the last 35 years, more often than any team has played in any stadium other than its own in that span without an annual appointment.
Line: BYU (–3).
Prediction: San Diego State was 6-1 in Qualcomm this season; BYU was just 2-4 on the road. Painting a different logo on the Aztecs' home field doesn't quite level it.
San Diego State 20, BYU 16.