Old rivals will renew acquaintances when the BYU Cougars meet the San Diego State Aztecs in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday at Qualcomm Stadium.
These two programs spent decades competing in the old version of the Western Athletic Conference followed by the Mountain West Conference and had many memorable games, but that relationship ended when the Cougars left the MWC to become an independent this season. The Aztecs figure to have a distinct home-field advantage in the Poinsettia as they will be playing this on their regular season home field.
As you begin to plan your college football picks for the week ahead, note the Cougars are a 2.5-point favorite versus the Aztecs. This game opened with BYU favored by three points, but there has been enough action on the Aztecs to drop the line at most betting shops off that key number. The over/under is installed at 49 points.
BYU (7-5) has dominated this series over the years and won the last meeting in 2010. The Cougars are led by a stout defense that has allowed just 14.7 points a game, which ranks fifth in the nation.
However, they also come into this with question marks at the quarterback position. Regular starter Riley Nelson, who had an up and down regular season, missed the final game because of a rib injury. He is expected to be cleared to play this week, but it's unclear if he will replace backup James Lark, who threw for 384 yards and six touchdowns in the Cougars 50-14 win over New Mexico State to close the regular season.
San Diego State, which was an excellent 8-4 against the spread this season, is led by the nation's No. 16 rushing attack. The Aztecs averaged 229.2 yards a game on the ground with sophomore running back Adam Muema doing most of the heavy lifting. Muema tallied 1,355 yards on the ground and 16 touchdowns during the regular season.
This game could hinge on the Aztecs ability to run the ball against the Cougars stingy defense.
San Diego State won its last seven games to close out the regular season after a slow 2-3 start. The signature win for the Aztecs came with a 21-19 victory on the road over then-No. 19 Boise State in early November.
The Cougars biggest win came against Georgia Tech of the ACC, but also note they nearly upset No. 1 Notre Dame in South Bend before losing 17-14 in South Bend.
This figures to be a tight, low-scoring affair—which is a far cry from the shootouts these two teams used to engage in. Given the question marks at quarterback for BYU and the expected pro-Aztec crowd in Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego State could be primed for the upset.
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