If some national bowl projections are to be believed, the Las Vegas Bowl was looking at the possibility of a North Texas vs. Wyoming matchup a few weeks ago.
But the news was quite a bit better when the pairings were officially announced on Sunday. The 25th edition of the Las Vegas Bowl, which will be played on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 12:30 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium, actually turned out to be one of the better early matchups on the bowl docket as Mountain West champion San Diego State (10-3) will face Houston (9-3).
The at-large Cougars of the American Athletic Conference, who lost highly-regarded head coach Tom Herman to Texas last week, will fill the Pac-12’s spot in the matchup because that conference didn’t have enough eligible teams to fill its bowl obligations.
It can be argued Houston is a step up over a middle of the road Pac-12 team like Cal or Stanford this season anyway, having opened the season with a 33-23 upset of eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma and also knocking off then-No. 5 ranked Louisville and Heisman Trophy favorite Lamar Jackson, 36-10.
The Cougars, who were ranked as high as No. 5 at one time in the Coaches Poll, are led by arguably the nation’s top freshman defensive lineman in tackle Ed Oliver who had 19.5 tackles for loss and nine pass breakups to go along with a pair of sacks in both upset wins over the Sooners and Cardinals.
San Diego State won the Mountain West Championship game, 27-24, at 18-degree Wyoming on Saturday night to earn its slot. The Aztecs are led by former Canyon Springs star Donnel Pumphrey who moved past Ricky Williams into the No. 2 spot in NCAA history with 6,290 career rushing yards and is just 107 yards behind the record holder, Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne (6,397). However, he’ll be going against a Houston run defense that ranks third nationally allowing just 97.9 yards per game.
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will coach Houston in the bowl game on an interim basis. The Cougars are led offensively by dual-threat senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. who has passed for 3,328 and 22 touchdowns and also rushed for 518 yards and nine TDs.
Tickets, priced between $45-$120, are still available and can be purchased at www.lvbowl.com.