Bowl season is now upon us, and the predictions for the myriad of games are starting to roll in. Each team takes the predictions as bulletin board fodder or shrugs them off. Here's a sampling of some of the pre-game hype.
ESPN Bowl Prediction:
ESPN's Mark Schlabach predicts the Mountain West Conference's Colorado State football team, without its head coach, will beat the 3 1/2-point favorite Power 5 Utah Utes in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl 34-31. No. 22 Utah has a defense that leads the nation in total sacks (52) and sacks per game (4.33) and are led by Walter Camp and AP All American Nate Orchard at defensive end. On the other side of the ball, CSU has a quarterback who's thrown for nearly 4,000 yards in Garrett Grayson, a Belitnikoff finalist and first team AP All American at wide receiver, Rashard Higgins, and a nearly 1,300-yard rusher in Dee Hart.
As with most of Utah's late season games, this comes down to Utah's offense against CSU's defense. CSU will score, and Utah will hold them below their average. It then falls to the Utah offense to put offensive touchdowns, not field goals, on the board. If Travis Wilson has time and gets tight end Westlee Tonga going early, Utah could roll behind 1,350-yard running back Devontae Booker.
However, one X-factor to the game, as it has been all season, could be Utah's special teams, led by AP/Walter Camp All American Tom Hackett. The Ray Guy Award winner will see to it that CSU has long fields all game, but Utah's offense will need to capitalize. When CSU has to punt, they do so to one of the most dangerous return men in college football, Utah kick returner and wide receiver, Kaelin Clay. If Clay returns a punt or kickoff for a touchdown, that will change the entire complexion of the game. Look for CSU to try and kick away from Clay.
Who to Watch:
CBS Sports lists Colorado State offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo as one to watch in bowl games. The 6-5, 315 tackle is a lynch-pin to the success of the CSU offense and will face his most stern test against Utah's All American, Pac-12 Morris Trophy winner, and Ted Hendricks Defensive End Award winner Nate Orchard. Orchard, of course, leads the nation in sacks per game (1.46) and is second in total sacks (17.5).
Utah is 55-22-2 all time against Colorado State.
Colorado State will be playing its first Top 25 opponent of the season and have lost their last 15 games against ranked teams.
Utah and CSU kickoff the Las Vegas Bowl Saturday at 1:30 p.m. MT on ABC.