Bleeding Red: Utah’s D will be the key in Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

The Holy War has moved to Sin City
And yet the Utes are still sitting pretty
Who will score more, we’ll have to wait and see
BYU’s offense or Utah’s tough D

COMMENTARY — It has often been said that defense wins championships. Well, the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl is a far cry from any championship, but the old adage is about to be put to the test to see whether Utah’s defense or BYU’s offense carries the day.

Given the Utes’ offensive struggles of late, it is not too much of a stretch to say that Utah’s defense and special teams may be called upon to outscore BYU’s offense.

Utes and Cougs ink best players in the stateWe won’t have to wait much longer to see, because the Utes and the Cougars square off this Saturday as part of the bowl season opening weekend line-up, with the kickoff scheduled for 1:30 p.m. MT on ABC.

With the bowl season upon us, let me share three “gee whiz” facts about this year’s collection of bowl game matchups.

1. Las Vegas Bowl tickets are more expensive on the secondary market than all of the New Year’s Six Bowls with the sole exception of the Rose Bowl.

I have had friends tell me that Las Vegas Bowl tickets were harder to come by than most of the New Year’s Six games, so I personally went online to see what tickets were still available for the games (my online research was conducted Sunday evening, so the numbers may have changed or may yet change for games to be played in a few weeks).

First, I checked the official websites for each of the seven bowl games. The Las Vegas Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Cotton Bowl are all sold out. There is limited suite and luxury seating still available for the Orange Bowl. Tickets are still available for the Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Peach Bowl.

Next, I checked the secondary market for bowl game tickets by searching for tickets on StubHub, TicketCity and PrimeSport. The results were consistent across all three sources — the Rose Bowl is indeed the only New Year’s Six game for which tickets are more expensive than the Las Vegas Bowl on the secondary market.

In all fairness, the Las Vegas Bowl is a much smaller venue than any of the New Year’s Six venues (with the seating capacity in Sam Boyd Stadium topping out at 35,500, or about half the size of the smaller New Year’s Six venues, and closer to a third the size of some of the larger venues). Additionally, Utah fans and BYU fans who have sorely missed the Holy War the past two years will travel well to relatively nearby Las Vegas, pushing the price of the limited number of tickets to a premium level.

2. No Power-5 Conference has more bowl teams than the Pac-12.

An astounding 10 out of 12 teams in the Pac-12 have been invited to bowl games. Notably, due to the proliferation of bowl games and the limited number of bowl eligible teams, a handful of 5-7 teams have been extended bowl invitations, but none of those sub-par 5-7 teams came from the Pac-12.

1pac-12-logoThe SEC and Big-10 boast 10 bowl teams each. Similar to the Pac-12, the SEC has 10 legitimate bowl teams. However, two of the Big-10 bowl teams (Nebraska and Minnesota) slipped in the back door with 5-7 records.

The ACC produced nine bowl teams, and the Big-12 can only claim seven.

3. Nine of 10 Pac-12 teams are favored to win their bowl game, including Utah.

Similar to prices of tickets, favorites may change between now and kickoff for many of these games (especially games that will not be played for a few weeks yet). In fact, Arizona State has already climbed from a slight underdog to a slight favorite over West Virginia, whereas Oregon has fallen from a slight favorite to a slight underdog to TCU. As it stands right now, Oregon is the only Pac-12 team not favored to win (and that may change yet again before kickoff).

In contrast, 8 of 10 SEC teams are favored, 4 of 10 Big-10 teams are favored, 2 of 9 ACC teams are favored, and 4 of 7 Big-12 teams are favored.

In other words, the Pac-12 could really dominate the bowl games and leave its mark on the post-season, even without a team in the four-team college playoff. And for the record, oddsmakers have Utah favored by three over BYU.

In other really cool news, Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award for the second consecutive time.

Tom Hackett
Tom Hackett

This guy is simply amazing. Hackett is only the third punter in the history of this award to win it twice. His acceptance comments were just as memorable as his on-field performance. When questioned on why he didn’t play Australian-rules football, the sport preferred by his native homeland, Hackett replied: “The main reason I’m playing this sport (college football) right now is because deep down I’m fat, and I don’t like running very far, so running 20 odd yards on, 20 odd yards off is about all I’ve got for you.”

Meanwhile, up on The Hill, the Runnin’ Utes are in the home stretch of their non-conference schedule.

Utah is 7-2 on the hardwood court, with two tough losses to Miami and Wichita State. The common theme in both losses was a poor offensive performance by the Runnin’ Utes. After the loss to the Shockers Saturday, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak lamented “there was only about eight minutes in the game when I was happy with our offense.”

Utah doesn’t have time to lick its wounds as it hosts Savannah State in the Huntsman Center Wednesday night and then goes on the road to play Duke in Madison Square Garden on Saturday, tipping off at 10 a.m. MT on ESPN (just a few hours before the Las Vegas Bowl kickoff on the other side of the country).

Here’s hoping Utah gets two wins against teams in blue this Saturday, with back-to-back Las Vegas Bowl titles at the expense of BYU, and a big win in Madison Square Garden over Duke.

Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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