The Bowl season kicks off with a fascinating matchup as the Arizona Wildcats of the Pac-12 meet the Nevada Wolfpack of the Mountain West. This bowl features two of the top running backs in the country and both teams can put points on the board in a hurry so expect a high-scoring, action-packed start to bowl season.
When to Watch: Saturday, December 15 1:00 PM ET
Where to Watch: Live on ESPN from University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
What to Watch for…
When Nevada has the ball: Nevada runs the ball effectively with the nation’s second-leading rusher Stefphon Jefferson and dual-threat QB Cody Fajardo. The Wolf Pack is seventh in the nation in rushing offense (260.0 ypg) and scores 37.0 points per game. Their leading receiver is Senior Brandon Wimberly, but they also utilize tight end Zach Sudfeld extensively. Nevada has scored 21 points or more in each contest this season including an incredible 69 point game in Hawaii powered by six Jefferson touchdowns.
Arizona’s defense has struggled to stop the run this year, but look for Marquis Flowers to play a key role in slowing down the rushing attack. He’s the team’s leader with 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss and ranks second with 90 tackles. He’s played especially well recently accounting for four forced turnovers in his last six games. He dominates against USC and earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.
When Arizona has the ball: The Wildcat offense looks a lot like the Wolpack’s but they have the only rusher in the country with more yards per game than Jefferson in Ka’Deem Carey. Carey led the FBS with 1,757 yards rushing and 20 rushing touchdowns. Expect him to get plenty of touches as the Wildcats offense looks to get their average 37.3 points per game. Carey had his own signature game when he ran for 366 yards and five scores against the Colorado Buffaloes on November 10.
He’s not the only weapon Arizona has as QB Matt Scott has also had a solid Senior year throwing for over 3,000 yards with 24 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. Scott primary targets is Sophomore Austin Hill who went over 1,000 yards receiving already this season with nine touchdowns. Late in the season Garic Wharton, a Nevada native, has also come on finishing with his best game of the year-6 catches, 89 yards, and a touchdown. Look for him to be a factor as the Wildcats take on his home-state college.
The Nevada defense ranked 95th in the nation in scoring defense allowing 32.5 points per game despite playing only one ranked team (Boise State). They rank even lower against the run allowing 213.7 rushing yards per game which ranks them 112th in the country. They’ll struggle to stop Arizona and especially Carey.
Who to Watch-NFL Prospects
While Ka’Deem Carey will be a highly rated running back in next year’s draft hype, there are some lower-level prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft as well. None are projected to go in the early rounds in most mock drafts at this point, but a good bowl game and a good postseason can go a long way to changing that. Matt Scott-QB-Arizona could be a mid-round selection as a developmental QB. Dan Buckner-WR-Arizona is projected to be a final-round pick. For Nevada, Duke Williams-SS-Nevada is projected to be a mid-to-late round pick as would Stefphon Jefferson-RB-Nevada be if he declares early for the draft (Jr.). Zach Sudfeld-TE-Nevada could also go in the fourth or fifth round.
Nevada has lost four of their last five and haven’t played nearly as tough a schedule as Arizona. I think the Pac-12 pedigree of the Wildcats and their dynamic offense under Rich Rodriguez will prevail in the end. Arizona’s losses have come against ranked teams in all but one case-their loss to Arizona State in the season finale. I’ll take Arizona to win the game, but the Wolfpack offense should be able to score and rack up points so I’d hesitate to give the 10 points against the spread.