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BYU (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5)
Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Reason To Watch: It's the best game on the opening day of bowl season. BYU was the trendy BCS buster in the early stretches of the season, but losses to TCU and Utah sealed the Cougs' fate: a fourth straight Las Vegas Bowl. Currently slotted at No. 17 in the AP poll, BYU is the only ranked team in action on the opening weekend of bowl season. On the other side, Arizona is playing in its first bowl game since 1998. After entering the season on the hottest of hot seats, 'Cats coach Mike Stoops topped off a respectable 7-5 campaign with a 31-10 defeat of archrival Arizona State.
These two schools will face off for the third consecutive season. They split a home-and-home series over the past two seasons, with the host team prevailing each time. Now they'll lock horns in neutral Sam Boyd Stadium.
For a Dec. 20 bowl game, this matchup has plenty to offer. We're not talking must-see TV here (after all, the game kicks off in primetime on Saturday night), but it's certainly could-see TV.
Keep An Eye On: Max Hall vs. the Arizona pass defense. The BYU quarterback began this season as a fringe Heisman candidate, but he struggled mightily in both Cougars losses. When then-No. 9 BYU lost 32-7 to unranked TCU, Hall threw two interceptions and lost a pair of fumbles. Then in 48-24 loss to Utah in the Holy War, Hall suffered the worst performance of his college career, throwing five interceptions and coughing up a fumble. So, will he be able to bounce back against a game Wildcats defense? Arizona ranks 14th nationally in pass defense (169.75) and 16th in pass efficiency defense (103.94). It must be noted, though, that the Pac-10 had an unusual scarcity of talented throwers in 2008. Unless you're abnormally high on USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, there's no questioning that Hall will be the best passer 'Zona has faced this season.
Betting Angle: The over. Even though both teams are averaging over 35 points per game, the over/under is 61.5. Although it wouldn't shock me if Arizona won in a 24-17-type game, I think both teams will air it out and put some points on the board.
Final Analysis: The Cougars fell short of a widely projected BCS bid and have to settle for a fourth straight Vegas vacation. (An annual Mormon mission to Sin City? Brigham Young is spinning in his grave!) On the other hand, Arizona is absolutely thrilled to be playing in the postseason at all. It's been 10 years, for heaven's sake. I'll side with the more motivated team (and the better defense) ...
The Pick: Arizona 38, BYU 31