It was a decade ago when Chris Petersen and the Boise State Broncos completed a stunning overtime upset of the Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl. Fast forward to 2017, and the Broncos again find themselves as underdogs in a West Coast bowl against a Power 5 team.
With the college football bowl season set for kickoff on Saturday, the Las Vegas Bowl from Sam Boyd Stadium features the day’s marquee matchup. Boise State (10-3, 7-1) is a 7-point ‘dog against the Oregon Ducks.
In a contest featuring talent that could be seen in the near future on Sundays, the two teams have experienced seasons marked by inconsistencies and quarterback shakeups.
The Broncos are fresh off a 17-14 Mountain West championship bounce-back victory over Fresno State after dropping the regular-season finale to the Bulldogs the prior week. Quarterback Brett Rypien struggled to find consistency throughout the year, battling injuries and regularly sharing time with Kansas transfer Montell Cozart.
Yet, the Boise defense was able to pick up much of the slack, allowing just 22.5 points per game while forcing 26 turnovers.
Oregon (7-5, 4-5), recovering from the departure of Willie Taggart to Florida State, finished the regular season fourth in the Pac-12 North. With offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal now coaching the Ducks, one would not expect much falloff in terms of Oregon’s offensive production on game day, as quarterback Justin Herbert leads the charge. Herbert threw for 1,750 yards and 13 touchdowns with a 66.5 completion percentage while the unit averaged 52.1 points and went 6-1 in his seven appearances.
But with Thursday’s news of running back Royce Freeman’s decision to skip the game to protect his health for the 2018 NFL Draft, questions now arise if Oregon’s arsenal will be fully loaded in what will be its third appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Freeman rushed for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, spearheading a running game that featured a level of physicality and power not seen with former Oregon teams. The absence of Freeman and the injury suffered by Boise State back Alexander Mattison in the MW title game could put this matchup on the shoulders of Herbert and Rypien and the defenses that oppose them.
Play: Boise State (plus-7)
While Oregon will inevitably rack up yards, the defense of the Broncos will remain stout enough to not let this game get away from them. Rypien will find his rhythm with stud receiver Cedrick Wilson and the physical Broncos will give the Ducks all they can handle. Boise State is 3-0 all time in the Las Vegas Bowl, with all three victories coming over Pac-12 opponents. While that trend may very well change, the cover should go to the Broncos.
Brett’s Bowl Blitz
Alamo Bowl, Dec. 28
* Stanford-Texas Christian (Under 49): When not facing Baker Mayfield, the defense of the Horned Frogs has held every offense in check. I expect Stanford to do the same to Kenny Hill and TCU. This will be a low-scoring affair with a Bryce Love-Darius Anderson running back battle.
Cotton Bowl, Dec. 29
* USC (plus-7½) over Ohio State: The Trojans have all the skill and athleticism to stay neck and neck with the Buckeyes, who looked underwhelming even in victory against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Ohio State’s standout defensive line will have its hands full stopping Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones out of the backfield.
Peach Bowl, Jan. 1
* Auburn (-9½) over Central Florida: What coach Scott Frost has done at Central Florida is one of the most impressive feats and best storylines in college football. It won’t help the Knights in their Peach Bowl matchup against the rested Tigers, who when fully loaded are talented and balanced enough to beat any team in the country. Jarrett Stidham passing and a dominant Auburn pass rush take care of an explosive UCF squad.
Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1
* LSU (-3) over Notre Dame: Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush and running back Josh Adams tailed off late in the season, while Danny Etling and Derrius Guice helped drive LSU to a respectable finish. The teams’ contrasting turns in momentum will be noticeable in the Citrus Bowl, as the Irish struggle to find success against a superior Tigers team.
Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1
* Clemson (plus-2½) over Alabama: The betting sheet shows them as a dog, but there is nothing that suggests the Tigers are the lesser team between the white lines. Not only does Clemson have the caliber of talent to matchup with Alabama across the board, experience in the playoffs against them gives the Tigers extra familiarity. Dabo Swinney and the Tigers have split a pair of epic battles with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide — the rubber match goes to Clemson. Kelly Bryant keeps Alabama’s defense off balance, and the best front four in college football wins the battle up front to put a paw print on a second consecutive national championship.