Las Vegas Bowl Presented by Geico: Houston Cougars vs. San Diego State Aztecs
Date: Dec. 17, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
Location: Sam Boyd Stadium | Las Vegas
Best moment: It ultimately didn’t lead to a playoff bid, but what a scene on opening Saturday when the Cougars beat then-No. 3 Oklahoma in Houston. Holding a tenuous two-point lead after the break, the Cougars broke the game open with a 100-yard kick-six. The win over Louisville at home was another wild environment.
Lowest moment: The Cougars’ playoff hopes were washed away in a loss at Navy back in October, and it was the beginning of a three-game struggle. That six-point loss turned into a narrow win against Tulsa before a shocking 22-point loss to rival SMU, which finished the season 5-7.
Key player: Ed Oliver. It’s rare for a true freshman to start on the offensive or defensive line -- let alone be one of the most dominant linemen nationally -- but few are better than Oliver. In his first season at Houston, Oliver has 19 tackles for loss, and five of those tackles came against Oklahoma and Louisville.
Motivation level: Low. It will be tough for the remaining coaches to get the Cougars excited about a bowl game after Tom Herman bolted for nearby Texas. The team came out flat against Memphis as rumors swirled that Herman was leaving, and now he’s officially out the door. There isn’t a New Year’s Six bowl to spark motivation, either. -- Jared Shanker
San Diego State
Best moment: Donnel Pumphrey announced his Heisman Trophy candidacy with a 281-yard rushing effort in a 45-40 win over California back in September. The senior running back averaged 9.7 yards per carry in the Aztecs’ win over a Pac-12 foe, setting the table for his team’s 9-3 regular season, which featured many blowout wins.
Lowest moment: The Aztecs were a total no-show in their regular-season finale against Colorado State, losing 63-31 on their home turf. This came a week after a gut-wrenching 34-33 loss at Wyoming. Those two defeats damaged Pumphrey’s push for a ticket to New York City, as he averaged only 69.5 rushing yards in those games.
Key player: Pumphrey is worth the price of admission here. Despite the slow finish to the regular season, the 5-foot-9 back will finish with a 2,000-yard season. He also may have the best chance of any player to challenge Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey for the all-purpose yardage crown -- but it’ll take a big bowl performance.
Motivation level: High. The Aztecs bounced back nicely with their conference title win over Wyoming, exacting revenge for the defeat that soured the end of their regular season. With a 10-win season already in tow, San Diego State should be feeling good about making a postseason statement and sending Pumphrey out on a good note. -- David Lombardi