Las Vegas Bowl Preview

Welcome to the 89th edition of Tuesdays With Mitch, where the bowl season will soon be upon us. Short post this week; I’ve been busy. (And hey thanks for the positive feedback on last week’s post.) Let’s get into it…

Garrett Grayson - Colorado v Colorado State

Garrett Grayson’s remarkable career will come to an end on Saturday. (Doug Pensinger, Getty Images)

The Colorado State Rams have a chance to finish one of the better seasons in school history on a positive note Saturday afternoon in the Las Vegas Bowl. Standing in their way is an old WAC and Mountain West rival in the Utah Utes. Brent Musberger and Jesse Palmer will be on the call for ABC, 1:30 Colorado time.

So let’s start with a quick breakdown of the Utes. Here’s their 2014 schedule:

(screenshot via espn.com)

(screenshot via espn.com)

So Utah went 8-4 on the year and 5-4 in Pac-12 play. Their best win is probably on the road against UCLA, who is currently ranked 14th by the CFP committee. They have a bad loss at home to a Washington State team that won only one other conference game. Other than that, their schedule played out about like you’d expect, though two of their conference wins came in double overtime. Utah is currently ranked 22nd by the committee.

Utah leans on the run more than the pass and their best player is probably junior running back Devontae Booker, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry on his way to 1,350 rushing yards on the season. Booker was named Pac-12 First Team All-Conference.

Their defense gives up 26.2 points per game and is led by defensive end Nate Orchard who recorded 16.5 (!) sacks on his way to a First Team Pac-12 selection.

Overall, based on what I’ve seen from Utah this year (only a few games) and looking at the numbers, Utah looks like a very balanced team. Not great offensively. Not great defensively. But no real weak spots. They’re a pretty good team, but won’t be mistaken for a championship contender anytime soon.

Utah is favored by about 4.5 points in Vegas. Colorado State could certainly beat them.

Obviously, much of the speculation for this game revolves around the Rams’ lack of a head coach. Dave Baldwin will fill in nicely (I made my case for him last week), but playing without Jim McElwain for the first time all season in the biggest game of the year isn’t ideal. It will be interesting to see how focused and cohesive CSU is after such a tumultuous couple of weeks.

They should be able to score some points against Utah’s defense, who will have trouble covering Rashard Higgins because everybody has trouble covering Rashard Higgins. Containing Booker will be key. I think the Rams will have a chip on their shoulder and will be wanting to prove themselves. I think Utah will be nonplussed and unenthused at their bowl game and matchup after having set their sights on bigger fish for much of the year.

So if you force me to make a prediction, I’ll say CSU wins a very close one. It can’t be as crazy as last year’s New Mexico Bowl, but it could go down to the wire. 34-33 Rams. I have very little confidence in that pick. (I pretty much nailed my New Mexico Bowl prediction last season and this recap is a pretty fun read one year later.)

If CSU does pull off the minor upset, it will be interesting to see if they finish the year nationally ranked in any of the three polls. They’re currently in the “others receiving votes” category in the AP and Coaches polls.

Win or lose, this game represents the final 60 minutes for an important class of Colorado State seniors. Last week, I said that Jim McElwain put the Rams back on the college football map. That’s true, but this class of seniors also played a fairly important role.

Charles Lovett, Bernard Blake, Aaron Davis, Max Morgan, Jared Roberts, Mason Myers, and Ty Sambrailo highlight a group that was there for the end of the Steve Fairchild era. Over the course of their careers, they turned the program around.

The most notable senior is, of course, quarterback Garrett Grayson, who is looking for one last win before he moves on to a possible career in the NFL.

Grayson’s progress and growth were fun to watch over the course of the last four years. He was good last year and awesome this year. I’ve mentioned these numbers before, but they bear repeating:

  • Grayson’s quarterback rating in four games (three starts) as a freshman:  108
  • In six games as a sophomore:  126.5
  • In 13 games as a junior:  138.4
  • In 12 games (so far) as a senior:  171.3

Grayson was also what you look for in a “face of the franchise” type quarterback. Well spoken. Good-lookin’ kid. Carries himself well off the field. Good leader.

So here’s hoping Grayson, Sambrailo, Morgan and Davis lead the Rams to one more victory against Utah on Saturday. Colorado State can still finish 2014 with an 11-2 record. This season– and each of those careers — was too awesome to come to an end with two straight losses sandwiched around the exit of Jim McElwain.

In other, non-bowl game news, a non-senior made some headlines this week when Rashard Higgins was named First Team All-American by the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, Walter Camp, ESPN and USA Today. Higgins came to CSU out of high school as a two-star recruit on Rivals. Now, as a true sophomore– A TRUE SOPHOMORE!– he’s a first team All-American. That’s amazing.

In my CSU season preview I said, “Rashard Higgins was the Rams’ leading receiver last year as a true freshman. I think he’s poised for an enormous season. Remember his name.”

I guess First-Team All American qualifies as an “enormous season”.

I also wanted to talk a lot of CSU basketball here, but don’t have time. I’ll just say that win in Boulder on Wednesday night was very impressive. Closing out good teams on the road ain’t easy, but the Rams passed their first real test as visitors. Larry Eustachy’s band of transfers look like legitimate Mountain West contenders. They should be ranked this week, but they’re settling for “others receiving votes” again.

I don’t have any of the weekly departments this week, but I did enjoy this Vine:

A couple links worth sharing:

And finally, here’s a touching, sad moment from John Wall.

Happy Tuesday everybody. If you’re heading out to Vegas, put 20 on red for me. Thanks for reading. See ya next week.

***

Comment on any of this stuff below, or email me at mdhahn1@yahoo.com with post ideas, videos or other media I should know about. Subscribe at the top right of this page. Follow me on Twitter @TuesWithMitch.

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