The Houston Cougars and San Diego State Aztecs look ready to put on one of bowl season’s best games in the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl on opening weekend.Houston (9-3) brings an elite offense to Nevada and bids farewell to elite quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who would likely want to vent some frustration after his team failed to secure a bigger bid.San Diego State (10-3) has a player who is receiving even more recognition than Ward, as Donnel Pumphrey put on a season worthy of Heisman Trophy contention.This game doesn’t just feature some of the country’s best individual players—it also looks like an evenly matched affair. Here’s a look at everything to know about the contest.
Las Vegas Bowl 2016
Time (ET): 3:30 p.m.
Location: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Spread: Houston (-4)
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.”
Houston: The past and the future will both be under close inspection with star quarterback Greg Ward Jr. finishing his college career in the game and future head coach Major Applewhite officially making his debut in his role. Todd Orlando, originally named the interim coach when Herman left for Texas, will be in his usual post as defensive coordinator. With Applewhite calling the shots, Ward was the only player to average over 300 yards passing per game and over 45 rushing yards per game, and the Cougars’ offense finished the regular season fourth nationally in total offense (349.6 yards per game).
San Diego State: The Aztecs have made the postseason in each of the six seasons since Rocky Long, 66, was promoted to head coach after Brady Hoke left for Michigan. They are quickly becoming a perennial power in the Mountain West but rarely have broken into the national conversation in this impressive run over the last two seasons (21 wins, two conference titles). The network television spotlight in the afternoon of the first bowl Saturday is a great chance for those unfamiliar to see what Long’s championship-caliber program in action.