Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona (7-5) vs. BYU (10-2)
Dec. 20, 8 p.m., (ESPN)
Arizona take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: Based on the records, this looks like a mismatch. But is it?
BYU, winners of three consecutive Las Vegas Bowls, started the season talking about perfection and a BCS bowl berth and rolled to a 6-0 start. But the Cougars fell well short in their two biggest games, getting drubbed by 25 and 24 points at TCU and Utah.
On the other hand, the Wildcats and Cougars have three common opponents: New Mexico, Washington and UCLA. BYU beat all three, while Arizona lost to New Mexico. Both blew out UCLA, though the Cougars' 59-0 drubbing of the Bruins was one of the season's most shocking thrashings.
Arizona manhandled Washington, but the Huskies were playing their first game without quarterback Jake Locker. BYU slipped by the Huskies, 28-27, when Locker, you may recall, was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for flipping the ball into the air after scoring what appeared to be a last-second, game-tying touchdown, pending the PAT, which was subsequently missed after an extra 15 yards was tacked on.
BYU's defense struggled over the second half of the season, giving up 32 or more points in four of its last six games. The BYU offense leans on quarterback Max Hall, who has thrown 60 touchdown passes over the past two seasons, finding receiver Austin Collie and tight end Dennis Pitta, but the Wildcats' defense probably should be just as worried about running back Harvey Unga. The Wildcats, who lost 20-7 to BYU in 2007, have struggled against power backs, and the 239-pound Unga, who's rushed for 1,061 yards and 10 TDs, certainly fits that bill.
BYU take by non-BCS blogger Graham Watson: This isn't the game BYU envisioned itself in when the season began, especially after it started the year 6-0 with a big win over UCLA on national television. But the Cougars lost handily to the two best opponents on their schedule, keeping them out of the BCS and snapping their string of consecutive conference titles and consecutive undefeated conference seasons.
But there's still a chance to will 11 games for the third consecutive season.
Although quarterback Max Hall had the worst performance of his career against Utah in the final regular season game of the year, he's still considered one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Hall has thrown for 3,629 yards and 34 touchdowns this season, more touchdown passes this season than any quarterback from the Pac-10, ACC, Big East, Big Ten or SEC.
BYU receiver Austin Collie leads the nation with 118.25 receiving yards per game and finished the season with a record nine consecutive 100-yard receiving games. He's fast and elusive and not unlike some of the receivers in the Pac-10.
Defensive speed has been the main question for BYU especially on the edges. That will be a point of emphasis against an Arizona team that averages 164 rushing yards per game.