(20) Boise State Broncos vs. (10) Arizona Wildcats (-3, 67.5)
An intriguing matchup between the 11-2 Boise State Broncos and the 10-3 Arizona Wildcats is scheduled for this year’s Vizio Fiesta Bowl (4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 31, at University of Phoenix Stadium).
The Broncos won the Mountain West Conference, ending the season on an eight-game winning streak. As the top non-Power Conference team in the nation, they earned an automatic bid into a New Year’s Six bowl game. Now, Boise State will look to gain some respect for itself – and its mid-major brethren – by trumping the Pac-12’s Wildcats.
This won’t be the first game the Broncos have played against a larger opponent this year. Boise State traveled to the Georgia Dome in its opening game of the season to face then-No. 18 Ole Miss. In a sloppy game for both teams, the Broncos hung with the Rebels for three quarters and trailed 7-6 heading into the fourth. But the defense couldn’t contain Ole Miss in the fourth, giving up 28 points in the final frame en route to a 31-13 loss.
Quarterback Grant Hedrick hit on over 78% of his passes and threw just ten incompletions, total, against Ole Miss. But four of those wound up in the hands of Ole Miss players as interceptions.
Hedrick and the Boise State offense were much better the rest of the season. The Broncos averaged 39.8 points per game, ninth-best in the nation. Their only other setback was a 28-14 loss to Air Force on the road in Colorado Springs. From there, Boise State posted eight straight wins, including a 28-14 win over Fresno State in the Mountain West title game (though they failed to cover as 22.5-point favorites).
Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin summed up his team’s season: “We played Ole Miss. We played them tough, but we didn’t finish that game, [then] we started to get on a roll [but] lost to Air Force. That was probably the turning point of our season. Are we going to go back to being an 8-5 team or are we going to decide that we’re going to go 1-0 each and every week? And that’s what we did.”
The Arizona Wildcats, on the other hand, flirted with playoff contention all season, going 10-2 heading into the Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon. However, the Wildcats were demolished (51-13) by an angry Oregon Ducks squad that was seeking payback for Arizona’s earlier 31-24 win in Eugene.
Arizona can get it done on either side of the ball, but neither its offense nor its defense has been consistently dominant.
The Wildcats are 27th in the country in points scored, averaging 34.8 points per game, but were held to just seven by UCLA and 13 in the rematch against Oregon. Meanwhile, the defense surrenders 27.5 points per game, 75th in the nation, but was able to hold Oregon to just 24 – by far its lowest output of the season – in their first matchup of the year.
Arizona has played tougher opponents than Boise State all season, and has looked like a top-ten team at times; but, due to their inconsistencies on both sides of the ball, the Wildcats are mere three-point favorites heading into New Year’s Eve.
(Photo credit: KT King (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)