Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson was justifiably outraged by the fact that two teams in his conference were selected to play in the inaugural Arizona Bowl on December 29. Nevada enters postseason play having lost back-to-back road games to Utah State (31-27) and San Diego State (31-14), while the Rams arrive in Tucson riding a four game win streak.
While these teams appear to be heading in opposite directions, my math model only favors Colorado State by one point and the technical analysis strongly favors the Wolfpack. Nevada is 10-3 ATS in its last thirteen road games, 5-0-1 ATS in its last six games off a loss and 4-0-1 ATS in its last five games overall.
Mountain West Conference bowl favorites off a win are 1-7 ATS, while first-year head coaches are a money-burning 17-31-2 as bowl favorites. I like to invest on bowl underdogs that possess a solid ground attack, and that is precisely what we have with the Wolfpack. Nevada is averaging 206 rushing yards per game at 4.8 yards per carry behind two 1,000-yard rushers in James Butler (1,153) and Don Jackson (1,025).
The Wolfpack should move the chains at will on the ground against a porous Colorado State defense that is allowing 208 rushing yards per game at 4.9 yards per carry to a group of running backs that would average just 4.3 yards per carry against a mediocre front seven. The Rams’ stop unit also yielded an alarming 219 rushing yards per game at 5.5 yards per carry on the road.
Nevada possesses a significant 0.7 yards per rush attempt advantage over the Rams’ defense, but the teams are even overall from the line of scrimmage when the Wolfpack have the ball (Nevada is 0.4 yards per play worse than average offensively; Colorado State is 0.4 yards per play worse than average defensively).
Colorado State will also have success on the ground behind a rushing attack that is 0.2 yards per carry better than average (4.8 yards per rush play against teams that would combine to allow 4.6 yards per rush play). The Rams’ offense was really clicking on all cylinders in the final three games of the 2015 campaign, averaging 37.0 points and 455 total yards per game at 7.0 yards per play and 12.3 yards per point.
However, the prolonged layoff between its final game of the regular season and Tuesday’s bowl game will only hurt Colorado State’s offensive unit. With respect to special teams, Nevada place kicker Brent Zuzo was 14-of-16 (.875) on field goal attempts this season, including going 3-for-3 from 30-39 yards and 3-for-3 from 40-49 yards.
In contrast, Colorado State place kicker Wyatt Bryan was just 13-of-19 (.684) on his field goal attempts in 2015, including going just 2-for-5 from 40-49 yards. Nevada’s punter averaged 42.3 yards per punt for a net of 37.8 yards (#63 in FBS), but the Rams’ punting unit averaged 46.3 yards per punt with a net of 43.6 yards (#2 in FBS).
Nevada is averaging 21.9 yards per kick return (#43 in FBS) and 12.6 yards per punt return (#20 in FBS), while the Rams are averaging 25.2 yards per kick return (#17 in FBS) and 12.6 yards per punt return (#21 FBS). Despite the small edge in returning kicks, I still like Nevada to win the Arizona Bowl outright.
Oskeim Sports’ Arizona Bowl Pick: Nevada (+3) (-105)