NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Nevada Wolf Pack vs. Colorado State Rams
Date: Dec. 29, 7:30 p.m. ET on Campus Insiders/American Sports Network
Location: Tucson, Arizona | Arizona Stadium
Nevada Wolf Pack
Best moment: The Wolf Pack sealed bowl eligibility with a dramatic home win over San Jose State. It wasn’t easy: They had to drive 75 yards in 13 plays to tie the game with 36 seconds left. They then blocked a Spartans field goal attempt at the end of regulation to force overtime, where Tyler Stewart’s touchdown pass sealed a 37-34 victory. In a mercurial season, this also marked the only time that Nevada won two games in a row.
Lowest moment: A week after their dramatic triumph against San Jose State, the Wolf Pack blew a 27-7 second-half lead at Utah State. The Aggies scored 24 unanswered points to deal Nevada this painful 31-27 loss. The go-ahead touchdown came in particularly nightmarish fashion: Stewart couldn’t handle a snap in his own end zone, and the Aggies fell on it to complete the comeback. A loss to conference champion San Diego State followed this game, so the Wolf Pack have not won since.
Key player: Nevada has more rushing than passing yards this season, so its two-headed backfield attack of James Butler and Don Jackson represents the vital core of the offense. Butler has amassed 1,156 yards on 6.3 yards per carry, while Jackson has contributed 1,025 yards. Between the two backs, there were 11 games in which a Nevada runner reached the 100-yard mark this year.
Motivation level: Last season’s trip to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl didn’t go well for the Wolf Pack. Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns beat them, 16-3. So there should be motivation to erase that memory and finish 2015 on a good note after consecutive losses to close the regular season.
-- David Lombardi
Colorado State Rams
Best moment: The Rams played their most complete game of the season in a 38-23 win over Air Force. It seems even more significant now considering how Air Force closed the regular season by winning five of six. But becoming bowl eligible with a win at New Mexico was a high point for a team that stared 2-4 and 3-5 in the face. Especially since New Mexico was at home and was coming off a road win over Boise State.
Lowest moment: Weeks 2 and 3 were pretty rough for the Rams. First, they lost a heartbreaker at home in overtime to Minnesota, 23-20. A week later was a second consecutive overtime home loss to in-state rival Colorado. The first loss was the result of a fumble. The second loss was the result of a blocked field goal. Tough stretch.
Key player: Wide receiver Rashard Higgins is the headliner. And with 66 catches for 933 yards and eight touchdowns, he’s deserving of all of the praise. But quarterback Nick Stevens has played pretty well in his first year as a starter replacing Garrett Grayson. He’s completing 62 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He’s also scored twice on the ground.
Motivation level: Head coach Mike Bobo is the first coach in school history to reach seven wins in the regular season in his first year. So that’s pretty good motivation right there. Getting an eighth win would be substantial as the Rams look to close out the year on a five-game win streak.
-- Kevin Gemmell