3:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Oregon -7.5, Over/Under: 60
Now that the final rankings are in the rearview mirror, and the College Football Playoff is set, the fun of the Bowl Season begins as the Twenty-Fifth-Ranked Boise State Broncos square off with the Oregon Ducks in the Las Vegas Bowl from Sam Boyd Field. One of the more consistently competitive Non-Power Five Programs, Boise State (10-3, 8-1 in MWC) managed to shake off a disappointing 2-2 start to the campaign to win eight of their final nine outings, including a 17-14 victory over then Twenty-Fifth-Ranked Fresno State in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game, to earn their second- consecutive Ten-Win Season, and their third in the four years since Bryan Harsin took over the program. That win over the Bulldogs was a sweet one for the Broncos, who met defeat in the Regular Season Finale, when they traveled to Fresno, California a week beforehand, when they fell short of the upset in a nip-and-tuck 28-17 defeat, that was much closer than the final score would indicate. On that day, the visiting side managed to pull within Two Points midway through the Fourth Quarter after trailing throughout the contest, only to see the hosts respond immediately with a decisive 81-Yard Touchdown Pass, followed later by a Safety with just over a minute left on the clock that would quell any chance of a comeback. However, it was clear that Harsin’s charges learned what they needed to learn from that affair, for when the two combatants met a week later at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho, there would be a very different outcome. Like it’s predecessor, the MWC Championship Game was close throughout, though this time it would be the Broncos that would find a way to close things out down the stretch, rallying from a 14-10 halftime deficit, on the strength of Brett Rypien (63.3%, 207.9 Y/G, 8.1 Y/A, 14 TD, 4 INT), who manufactured a 90-Yard Scoring Drive late in the Fourth Quarter that culminated in a Ryan Wolpin 2-Yard Touchdown Run to retake the lead for good. It was a solid performance for Rypien, who certainly endured his struggles at the beginning of the term, even losing a number of reps to his understudy Montell Cozart at one point, before solidifying his position during the team’s Seven-Game Winning Streak. The Junior Quarterback began the season in shambles, throwing just Two Touchdowns to Three Interceptions in the first six games, only to turn things around over the second half of the campaign, catching fire with Twelve Touchdown Passes in comparison to one lone Interception during a four-game stretch. The nephew of former Redskins’ Great Mark Rypien, Brett, who was highly sought-after coming out of High School, has been integral component in Boise’s turnaround, completing an efficient 65.9% of his passes for an average of 216.0 Yards per Game on a healthy 8.4 Yards per Attempt, with Fourteen Touchdowns and Two Interceptions in the months of October and November in which he led his team to a 7-1 record. For the most part, he has piloted one of the most prolific Offenses in the Mountain West, averaging 32.1 points (38th Overall) on 400.7 Total Yards per Game, with a pair of playmakers, Alexander Mattison (209 CAR, 107 YDS, 12 TD) and Cedric Wilson (73 REC, 1,290 YDS, 6 TD), to help shoulder the load. Mattison, a Sophomore Tailback who has exploded onto the scene in his first tour of duty as the featured ‘Back in the Backfield, played a large role during the Broncos’ charge down the stretch towards a Mountain West Title averaging 135.5 All-Purpose Yards, while scoring Ten Total Touchdowns, before suffering a leg injury that may end up keeping him off the field for tonight’s encounter with Oregon. Wilson, on the other hand, is healthy for the Las Vegas Bowl, with the Sophomore proving to be by far and away Rypien’s preferred target downfield, averaging a healthy 18.8 Yards per Reception throughout his tenure in Boise. At 6-3, 188 lbs, Wilson is a huge target when roaming opposing Secondaries, able to win plenty of Jump Balls at the expense of opposing Defensive Backs, and has closed out the season on one hell of a tear, reeling in Twenty Catches for 389 Yards in the last three games alone. Lastly, let’s not discount Harsin’s Defense, which with the exception of a couple of contests, really tightened up over the final half of the season, proving crucial in the rematch with Fresno State; in the MWC Championship Game, the Broncos’ Defense shut down Fresno State’s Passing Attack, limiting them to just 16-of-34 Passing (47.1%) for 172 Yards and Zero Touchdowns, while Intercepting them once, which was a complete 180 from their meeting the week prior, in which they were shredded for 332 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns on 23-of-36 Passing (63.9%). This Defense has feasted on Takeaways this season, totaling Twenty-Two, which combined with the good hands of their cohorts on the offensive side of the ball (Ten Turnovers), has parlayed into a solid Plus-12 Turnover Differential for Harsin and Co. Tonight’s contest will mark Boise State’s sixteenth consecutive appearance in a Bowl, and their fourth under Harsin, earning a 9-6 record over that period, while this would be their first trip to the Las Vegas Bowl since 2012 when they knocked off Washington in an entertaining 28-26 affair.
Meanwhile, for the second consecutive season, Oregon (7-5, 4-5 in Pac-12) finds themselves heading into a Bowl with a different Head Coach than the one it began the season with, for nearly a year after taking the job, Willie Taggart is off to Florida State, and has thus been replaced by Mario Cristobal. Cristobal, who spent this season as Taggart’s Assistant Head Coach and Co-Offensive Coordinator, declined to follow his coworker to Tallahassee, and was rewarded by the School with the permanent position, which is interesting given Cristobal’s extensive history coaching in the state of Florida, where he enjoyed two spells as an Assistant at the University of Miami (his Alma Matta), and his first tenure as a Head Coach at Florida International, where he led the fledgling program to their first and only Sun Belt Championship in 2010. However, 2017 has not been a particularly kind year for the Ducks, who were largely mediocre throughout the Conference Schedule, compiling a disappointing 4-5 record in the Pac-12, their second consecutive losing display in league play. It remains to be seen just what Cristobal will be able to do with this team, considering there were plenty of rumors in regards to Taggart’s discontent with the job swirling throughout the campaign. Needless to say, this is no longer the National Juggernaut it was under Chip Kelly or even in the early stages of Mark Helfrich’s tenure, as Oregon has gone a dismal 5-12 against the Pac-12 alone over the past two years. In fact, just three weeks ago they weren’t even Bowl Eligible, with crucial victories over Arizona and Oregon State by a combined score of 117-38 over the final two weeks of the Regular Season. The biggest problem for the Ducks this season has been by far and away Ball Security, committing a staggering Twenty-One Turnovers, which did nothing but erase the good will built upon Twenty-Two Takeaways. In their five losses alone they committed Eleven Turnovers, with Quarterback Braxton Burmeister (57.1%, 330 YDS, 4.3 Y/A, 2 TD, 6 INT) throwing Six Interceptions in Seven Games, before finally losing his job to Justin Herbert (66.5%, 250 Y/G, 10.3 Y/A, 13 TD, 3 INT), who spent the previous term as the Starting Quarterback, before his younger successor beat him out during Training Camp. Despite only featuring in Seven Games, the Offense has been far more explosive with the Sophomore behind the wheel, and successful to boot, with the Ducks earning a 6-1 record in games started by Herbert. In the final two games of the season, he deftly picked apart the Defenses of the Wildcats and Beavers, completing 27-of-44 Passes for 486 Yards, Four Touchdowns and an Interception, while also rushing for Fifty Yards and Two more Scores on just Six Carries. On the season, Cristobal coordinated an Offense that despite all the Turnovers, had no problem moving the ball once so ever, churning out a staggering 454.3 Total Yards per Game, with a whopping 268.0 of that figure coming courtesy of the Rushing Attack, which really carried the team down the stretch, running wild for 664 Yards in the final two outings. Oregon has rushed for at least 300 Yards on six occasions thus far, owning an unblemished record in such contests, led by Royce Freeman (244 CAR, 1,475 YDS, 16 TD) one of the last remaining members of Oregon’s 2014 Pac-12 Championship unit. The Senior has been one the most productive Tailbacks in the Pac-12 over the past four years, and at 5,621 career Rushing Yards, has found himself second all-time in conference history, while his Sixty Rushing Touchdowns is the most in the storied history of the league. Despite his team’s overall struggles, the Senior has been on an absolute roll entering his final contest as a Collegiate Athlete, averaging 136.8 Yards coupled with Six Touchdowns over the final six games of the Regular Season, including 257 Yards and all six of those scores in the final two wins over Arizona and Oregon State. Needless to say, Cristobal will have a hard time replacing him next year. Defensively though, the cupboard is not bare in Eugene, for Taggart left it well-stocked before his departure; the Ducks may give up a lot of Yards (359.8 Y/G), but they have been no strangers to big plays, generating Twenty-Two Takeaways, with Defensive Backs Thomas Graham (54 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PD, 1 FR), Arrion Springs (38 TKL, 40 TFL, 1 .0 SK, 17 PD), and Ugo Amadi (37 TKL, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 SK, 4 INT, 3 FF, 2 FR, 1 TD) forming one of the most opportunistic Secondaries in the Pac-12, with the triumvirate accounting for nearly half of the unit’s Takeaways (Ten). This group has also created plenty of havoc in the Backfield, racking up Eighty-Seven Tackles for Loss and Thirty-Two Sacks, with Junior Edge Rusher Jalen Jelks (50 TKL, 15.5 TFL, 7.0 SK, 7 PD) leading the team in both categories, while also batting down Seven Passes. Last year’s 4-8 season snapped an Eleven-Year Bowl Run for Oregon, whose last Postseason Victory came in 2014 when they hammered the reigning National Champions Florida State in the CFP National Semifinal before falling short in the National Championship Game against Ohio State a week later.