Las Vegas Bowl Preview, Prediction: Boise State vs. Oregon
Find out who we like in the Vegas Bowl
The Mountain West champions, 25th-ranked Boise State, take on the Oregon Ducks from the Pac-12.
The Boise State Broncos beat the Fresno State Bulldogs in a hotly contested matchup to capture the Mountain West football title for the second time in four years.
The win caps off another 10-win season for head coach Bryan Harsin, as the Broncos finished up the regular season at 10-3. Up next is bowl season, where the Broncos will head down to to the desert and face an old foe on familiar grounds: The Oregon Ducks in the Las Vegas Bowl. At first glance, this game looks ripe for a Bronco victory.
The Ducks finished their season at 7-5 and recently lost head coach Willie Taggert to Florida State, but a deeper dive into the 2017 Ducks show that this is still a dangerous foe that will be motivated and ready for this showdown.
Game Day Basics
#25 Boise State Broncos (10-3, 8-1 Mountain West) vs. Oregon Ducks (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12)
WHEN: Saturday, December 16 — 1:30 PM MT/12:30 PM PT
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium; Las Vegas, Nevada (40,000)
WEATHER: Sunny, with a high of 67; 0% chance of rain
SPREAD: Oregon -7.5
SERIES RECORD: Boise State leads the series, 2-0. In the last meeting on September 3, 2009, the Broncos beat the Ducks, 19-8.
LAS VEGAS BOWL RECORD: Boise State 3-0; Oregon 1-1
COMMON OPPONENTS: Wyoming and Washington State. The Broncos beat the Cowboys 24-14 on October 21, while the Ducks defeated Wyoming 49-13 in non-conference play on September 26. Both teams lost to the Cougars, however, as Boise State suffered a 47-44 defeat in triple-overtime on September 9 and the Ducks lost 33-10 on October 7.
Oregon Season in Review:
The Ducks started the year with a new head coach, bringing in Willie Taggert from South Florida to replace Mark Helfrich after a disastrous 4-8 campaign in 2016. Taggert led his Ducks storming out of the gate, led by the tandem of quarterback Justin Herbert and running back Royce Freeman.
Oregon started the season off 4-1 and Herbert went nuts during this period, racking up 1,264 yards with nine touchdowns and only one interception. Freeman chipped in 592 yards and ten touchdowns on the ground. However, during the Ducks 4th win of the season against California, Herbert went down with an injury and the Ducks offense completely collapsed, losing their next three to drop to 5-5, capped by a 38-3 thrashing from the Washington Huskies.
The Ducks averaged a shade less than 11 points during this five-game stretch, but then Herbert returned and picked up where he left off. Herbert threw for 486 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in the next two games and helped the Ducks finish the year at 7-5.
Keys to the Game
Quarterback Play: If you have not caught on, this Justin Herbert guy is pretty good. The Ducks go as Herbert goes and, if Herbert is playing, things have gone pretty well for the Oregon Ducks.
Herbert will be playing, so expect him to bring the always explosive Oregon offense ready to put on a show. The Broncos will counter with a pair of talented signal callers. Three-time all-conference quarterback Brett Rypien will look to continue his hot streak. In the last 8 games of the year, Rypien has notched 13 touchdowns against just one interception.
Rypien’s play has become steadier as the season has gone on and he will be needed to lead the Broncos in this one. All-conference tight end Jake Roh has missed the last two games and starting running back Alexander Mattison injured his ankle late in the conference title game and is not expected to play in the bowl game. Backup quarterback Montell Cozart, a transfer from Kansas, will have a role to play in this game.
Cozart has played in every game this season for the Broncos to spell Rypien in certain packages and even shared the field with Rypien at times. Expect offensive coordinator Zak Hill to find creative ways to use Cozart against the Ducks.
Coaching: Oregon lost their head coach less than a week ago and, normally, this would be a blessing for Boise State, but it may instead end up being an incredible energy lift for the Ducks. Oregon promoted within and named interim head coach Mario Cristobal their permanent head coach after many of the Oregon players petitioned the athletic department to keep him.
Cristobal does have head coaching experience at Florida International and has spent time as an assistant at Miami and Alabama before coming to Oregon. Most of the other assistants are expected to remain in place for the bowl game, as well. While promoting within after a head coach leaves for a different position does not always work out, it does give the Ducks a huge boost in this bowl game, both emotionally and competitively.
On the other side of the field, Bryan Harsin and company are coming off a short turnaround from the conference championship game. The Broncos will be motivated in this one as well, as a victory will cap off a successful season with a finish in the final AP top 25.
Turnovers: Turnovers! Turnovers always play a big role in swinging momentum in a football game and both squads will want to win the turnover battle in this game. For the season, the Broncos and Ducks both came away with 22 takeaways. However, Boise State only committed 10 turnovers for the year while Oregon has lost the ball 21 times. It should be noted that the Ducks have 10 interceptions on the year, but Justin Herbert only threwthree of those errant passes.
Prediction: This is going to be a tough one for Boise State. Coming off a two-week turnaround for a bowl game, after an emotional conference championship, will be challenging for the Broncos. Oregon, on the other hand, is well rested and waiting.
The Ducks have had an emotional few weeks with their head coaching change, but the athletic department promoted the man the team wanted and the Ducks will play hard to make sure that the program’s trust in Cristobal is well placed.
When Justin Herbert has played, the Ducks have been a legitimate top-25 team with an incredibly dangerous offensive attack, and Herbert is ready to go for this one.
Yet, there is just something about this matchup…
Boise State’s defense, under coordinator Andy Avalos, has answered the bell time and time again all season. Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Leighton Vander Esch will not plan on letting this explosive Duck offense run right over him and his Broncos. Senior running back Ryan Wolpin stepped in when Alexander Mattison went down and grinded out the deciding touchdown to capture the Mountain West Championship, so he will be ready to play.
The Broncos will win this game to make it three in a row against the Oregon Ducks. Boise State emerges with a victory in nail bitter in Las Vegas.
Boise State 41, Oregon 38
All statistics from College Football Reference and ESPN, weather report from weather.com