The San Diego State Aztecs and the Houston Cougars will both be gunning for a victory on Saturday when they meet at Sam Boyd Stadium.
San Diego State Aztecs vs. Houston Cougars
When: 3:30 PM ET, Saturday, December 17, 2016
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
|203||HOUSTON||3.5 (-110)||60 (-110)||-200
|204||SAN DIEGO ST|
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC.
LINE: Houston -3.
PREDICTION: Houston 47, San Diego State 45
Oddsmakers currently have the Cougars listed as 5½-point favorites versus the Aztecs, while the game’s total is sitting at 53.
LAS VEGAS — Standing 5 feet 9 and weighing 165 pounds, Donnel Pumphrey was considered too small to play running back by many schools coming out of Canyon Springs High School in North Las Vegas.
Rivals.com rated Pumphrey the fourth-best prospect in the state of Nevada. Scout.com gave him a two-star ranking. San Diego State had to beat out schools such as Oregon State, Duke and lukewarm interest from hometown UNLV to garner his services.
But the spotlight will be a big one shinning on Pumphrey in the 25th annual Las Vegas Bowl when Mountain West champion San Diego State (10-3) plays Houston (9-3) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) at Sam Boyd Stadium, only an 18-mile drive from Pumphrey’s old high school.
Pumphrey (6,290 yards) needs 108 yards to surpass Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne (6,397) as the all-time leading career rusher in FBS history.
Dayne, speaking on the Wisconsin State Journal’s “The Red Zone” podcast last month, said he believes he’s getting shortchanged however.
“He’s gonna have (an asterisk) by his name if he breaks the record anyway,” said Dayne, who starred at Wisconsin from 1996-1999. “They didn’t use none of my bowl games.”
Valid point. The NCAA began counting bowl games toward regular season and career statistical totals in 2002, but it did not go back and add bowl totals for players who played before 2002. If it had, Dayne’s total, counting bowl games, would be 7,125, including 200 yards in the 2000 Rose Bowl.
“Records are made to be broken,” Dayne said. “Good luck to him, and I wish him the best.”
Pumphrey, a first team All-American by Walter Camp and Sports Illustrated, ranks second in the country in rushing yards (2,018), rushing yards per game (155.2) and all-purpose yards (2,229) despite not playing in the fourth quarter in four of the past seven games. He is the only player in NCAA history with at least 5,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards.
Despite all those glossy numbers, he wasn’t one of five players invited to New York for the recent Heisman Trophy ceremony, another reason for him to play with a chip on his shoulder.
“I’m very disappointed. I think he deserves to be there,” San Diego State coach Rocky Long said last week. “I knew all along that it was a long shot because of a lot of things, us being a non-Power 5 program and being on the West Coast. Those are two big deterrents for him being invited, but it’s very disappointing. But he’s the Heisman winner in our minds and heart.”
Houston promoted offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to become coach after Tom Herman departed to become Texas coach. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who had been serving as the interim coach since Herman accepted the Texas job Nov. 26, assumes his usual duties as defensive coordinator and then is expected to join Herman at Texas.
The Cougars, who opened the season with a 33-23 upset of eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma and also stunned then-No. 5-ranked Louisville and Heisman winner Lamar Jackson 36-10, saw their bid for a second straight New Year’s Six bowl berth go by the wayside when they lost to Navy 46-40 midway through the season.
Houston also lost to SMU and Memphis and finished fourth (5-3) in the West Division of the American Athletic Conference.
Cougars quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is playing the final game of his spectacular career and ranks fifth in school history in passing touchdowns (52) and passing yardage (8,476). Ward accounted for 31 touchdowns (22 passing, nine rushing) this season while throwing for 3,328 yards and rushing for 518 despite battling a shoulder injury.
Houston’s rushing defense, led by freshman nose tackle Ed Oliver (19.5 tackles for loss, five sacks) and senior outside linebacker Steven Taylor (72 tackles, 8.5 sacks), ranks third in the nation at 97.9 yards per game which makes Pumphrey’s quest to break Dayne’s rushing mark even more interesting. The Cougars limited opponents to 22.6 points per game.
Senior cornerback Damontae Kazee (seven interceptions this season, school-record 17 in his career) and senior outside linebacker Calvin Munson (team-best 108 tackles) lead San Diego State’s defense. Kazee is the first cornerback in Mountain West history to win the defensive player-of-the-year award twice and the fifth player overall, joining Tank Carder (2010-11 at TCU), Jerry Hughes (2008-09 at TCU), Eric Weddle (2005-06 at Utah) and Kirk Morrison (2003-04 at San Diego State).