Aztecs streaking but 'D' gives Cougars edge

December, 20, 2012
12/20/12
9:12
AM ET
The BYU Cougars and San Diego State Aztecs meet Thursday (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

These schools share a rich history from when they were conference mates: in the WAC from 1978 to 1998 and in the MWC from 1999 to 2010.

Despite the familiarity, it’s been a mostly one-sided affair.

BYU is 14-2 against San Diego State since the 1993 season and has won the past five meetings. This will be the first time these schools meet in a bowl game.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said his starting quarterback will likely not be announced until right before kickoff. The decision is between Riley Nelson, who missed the last game with a rib injury, and James Lark.

Lark was impressive filling in during the regular-season finale against New Mexico State, going 34-for-50 for 384 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions.

Only one other BYU QB since 2000 had thrown for six touchdowns in a game: Max Hall in 2008 (seven TDs versus UCLA).

While his starting quarterback remains unknown, this much is clear: Mendenhall has been sparkling when it comes to bowls at BYU.

His teams have made a bowl game in all eight seasons of his head-coaching tenure, and he is 5-2 in games played.

That includes wins against BCS-AQ schools Oregon, UCLA and Oregon State. The Cougars have won three straight bowl games over the previous three seasons.

And watch out for BYU’s defense.

The Cougars have allowed fewer than 15 points per game this season and rank third in total defense.

In fact, there are only two FBS schools ranked among the top five defensively in scoring, rushing and total defense: Alabama and BYU.

All of the above would seem to stack the deck in favor of the Cougars -– if not for the fact the Aztecs enter as one of the hottest teams in the nation.

The Aztecs have won seven straight, tied for the third-longest active win streak in FBS.

San Diego State is looking for just its third bowl win in school history. The Aztecs are 2-5 all-time in bowl games with wins in the Pasadena Bowl (1969 season against Boston University) and Poinsettia Bowl (2010 season against Navy).

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