Washington State (8-4) vs Minnesota (8-4)
When: Tuesday, December 27th 2016
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
Time: 7:00 ET | TV: ESPN
The Washington State Cougars will take on the short-handed Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Holiday Bowl on December 27th. The Cougars started the season off with two straight losses including FCS-member Eastern Washington, but then reeled off eight straight before losing the final two against Colorado and rival Washington. The Cougars’ Air Raid attack led the Pac-12 and placed second nationally at 370.8 passing yards per game led by quarterback Luke Falk. The junior quarterback has completed 71% of his passes for 4,204 yards and 37 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, and has been helped by a surprising running game led by the trio of Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks. Falk is without injured starting wide receiver River Cracraft but still has a pair of deep threats in Gabe Marks and Tavares Martin Jr. The pair combined for 146 catches, 1,575 yards and 20 touchdowns. Left guard Cody O’Connell was named a first team All-American while safety Shalom Luani joined Marks as an All-Pac-12 first team selection after recording four interceptions along with 58 tackles, including 8.5 for loss. The Cougars’ 67th-ranked defense includes linebacker Peyton Pelluer, who had a team-high 89 tackles and will play a big role in slowing down the Gophers’ running game.
The Gophers created some controversy over the break when the team protested the suspension of 10 players from an incident in an off-campus apartment September 2nd. The team refused to practice or participate in any Holiday Bowl activities – even forfeiting the game itself – until the players were reinstated. That didn’t happen, but the players and administrating agreed about giving the suspended players a fair shake after the Bowl game. Among those who will not play are starting defensive backs KiAnte Hardin and freshman Antoine Winfield Jr., along with secondary reserves in freshman Ray Buford and sophomore Antonio Shenault. Hardin recorded two interceptions, six passes defended and a fumble recovery while Winfield had an interception, four passes defended and two fumble recoveries. Running back Rodney Smith finished fourth in the Big Ten with 1,084 rushing yards and scored 16 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Mitch Leidner added 10 rushing touchdowns but also threw 12 interceptions. Leidner has completed 56.4% of his passes for 2,040 yards and seven touchdowns, including five to Drew Wolitarsky, who has caught 61 passes for 787 yards.
I don’t see how this one stays close. The Gophers pass defense is terrible and will be without key players in the secondary. Washington State’s defense is good enough to keep the Gophers from scoring a lot. I think this is a blowout.
Pick: Washington State -10