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Poinsettia Bowl preview: BYU vs. San Diego State

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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(AP)

Poinsettia Bowl
BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)
Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

About the Cougars: BYU is wrapping up its second season as an independent program and this year the Cougars seemed to regress. For only the second time in the past seven seasons, the Cougars failed to notch double-digit wins. It lost to every ranked team on the schedule and Utah and San Jose State. If there’s any consolation, all but one of the losses – a 42-24 drubbing by Oregon State – was seven or fewer points. Coach Bronco Mendenhall has been on the hot seat and a loss in the bowl game would give the Cougars their second 7-6 season in the past three years.

About the Aztecs: San Diego State won seven consecutive games to end the season and are one win away from its first 10-win season since 1977. The Aztecs had their fair share of blowouts, but also learned how to squeak out wins against some of the tougher programs on the schedule, including Boise State and Nevada. Sophomore Adam Dingwell, who replaced injured senior Ryan Katz, has been a big part of the Aztecs surge down the stretch. He helped the Aztecs to a win over Nevada and has won his four starts. He has completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 767 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions.

Key number: 1
San Diego State is 1-9 against BYU in the last 10 meetings. The last time these two teams met was when BYU was still a member of the Mountain West Conference. The Cougars won 24-21.

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(USA Today Sports Images)

The breakdown: It’s been two years since these two teams met, but there are a lot of undertones that make this game interesting. Not only did these two teams play every year from 1978-2010, but SDSU coach Rocky Long and BYU’s Mendenhall coached together at New Mexico. It was Mendenhall’s work as an assistant under Long that landed him at BYU.

The key on the field will be BYU’s defense against San Diego State’s offense. Running back Adam Muema is coming off a 255-yard, four-touchdown effort in the regular-season finale against Wyoming, but could have some trouble against a BYU defense that ranks third in total defense and second nationally against the run.

The Cougars currently have a quarterback duel between James Lark and Riley Nelson, but Lark, who was a spark in a 50-14 rout of New Mexico State in the season finale, will likely start.

Predictions
Frank Schwab: San Diego State 17, BYU 10

San Diego State was 6-1 at home this year, and while this isn't technically a home game, it's in the same city and stadium the Aztecs usually play. Once San Diego State got past its slow start, it reeled off seven wins in a row. BYU has a good defense, but San Diego State scores enough to win.

Graham Watson: San Diego State 24, BYU 17
San Diego State is on a roll and it’s hard to deny a hot team, especially during bowl season. There’s been a lot of uncertainty with BYU from its coach to its quarterback situation. SDSU is playing in a familiar environment and will notch that all-important 10th win thanks to its well-rounded offense.

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