(22) Utah Utes (-4.5, 58 o/u) vs. Colorado State Rams
The No. 22 Utah Utes are the first ranked team that will see action this bowl season when they take on the Colorado State Rams on Saturday, December 20, at Sam Boyd Stadium in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (3:30 p.m. Eastern on ABC).
Utah finished the regular season with an 8-4 record and has alternated wins and losses since November against Oregon (51-27 loss), Stanford (20-17 double OT win), Arizona (42-10 loss), and Colorado (38-34 win).
“After an exciting regular season, our team is looking forward to playing in a bowl game. Las Vegas is a great destination, not only for our team, but for our fans,” Utah’s head coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement. “We’re facing a quality opponent in Colorado State and are looking forward to a good game.”
Undoubtedly, what Whittingham is really looking forward to is having the good version of the Utes show up to the final game of the season. Utah has been truly duplicitous all season, posting quality wins over Stanford, USC, and UCLA, while dropping a game to lowly Washington State and getting demolished at home by both Oregon and Arizona.
The Oregon game was particularly troubling. The Utes came out strong, but a mental error by Kaelin Clay (he was waltzing into the endzone for a TD to put the Utes up 14-0, but dropped the ball short of the goal line) turned the entire game around, and the Utes were routed at home (51-27) and failed to cover despite having 9.5-points to work with.
This weekend, they will face a Colorado State team that can’t be taken lightly. The Rams play in the mediocre Mountain West, but they posted an impressive 10-2 record, only dropping road games to Air Force (27-24) and conference champs Boise State (37-24).
The Rams offense averages 35.9 points per game, which is 22nd in the nation. Quarterback Garrett Grayson has had a tremendous season, throwing for 3,779 yards and 32 touchdowns. He is ranked by CBS as the seventh-best QB prospect in the upcoming NFL draft.
While the Rams should have their full arsenal of offensive weapons for the Las Vegas Bowl, they will be down one head coach come Saturday. Evidently, the Florida Gators were impressed with coach Jim McElwain’s quick turnaround of the Rams, who finished the 2012 season with just four wins, and gave him the opening in Gainesville. Now, Colorado State will travel to Vegas under the leadership of interim coach Dave Baldwin.
“That part’s no different at all,” defensive coordinator Matt English said. “We run practice the same way, our kids have the same kind of enthusiasm. Defensively, we’re just going about our business, and the kids are great. They just keep going; they’re very resilient.”
Colorado State is 7-7 in Bowl games but have won two straight. Utah is 13-4 overall in bowls, but its last appearance was in the 2011 Sun Bowl (which it won 30-27 over Georgia Tech).
Unsurprisingly, the Utes – a ranked team from a power conference – are listed as 4.5-point favorites. The Utes faced a much tougher schedule than Colorado State all year and should have the talent and experience to get by the Rams.
(Photo credit: Rachel Boettcher (http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123225841) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)