Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. CT at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas
Line: Utah is favored by 6.5 points
AP poll: West Virginia and Utah are both unranked
Sagarin ratings: West Virginia is 43rd, Utah is 39th.
Coaches: Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury is 90-41 in his fifth season with a 1-1 bowl record. USF’s Charlie Strong is 9-2 in his first season at USF and 3-3 in previous bowl games.
Bowl records: Texas Tech is 14-22-1, USF is 5-3.
Series: Utah won the lone matchup between these two teams in 1964.
The Mountaineers came into the year as a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big 12, but appeared to turn a corner in the middle of the year. West Virginia broke into the AP Top 25, getting as high as No. 22.
However, star quarterback Will Grier went out against Texas and is not expected to play in the bowl game. When Grier went out, the Mountaineer offense fell apart. West Virginia mustered 192 yards after Grier went out against Texas. When Baker Mayfield left the game against Oklahoma, the Sooners had a 52-17 lead.
The Utes had a strange season in 2017. At different points, Utah had four-game winning and losing streaks. The only conference victories came against UCLA without Josh Rosen, Arizona without Khalil Tate and Colorado.
However, the advanced metrics say the Utes were undervalued this season. Utah was a combined seven points away from beating USC, Stanford and Washington. The season looks very different if Utah was able to pull off any of the three wins
West Virginia is an air raid offense, but things look a little different with Will Grier out of the lineup. Even worse, senior running back Justin Crawford is also sitting out. Expect West Virginia to lean greatly on quarterback Chris Chugunov.
Chugunov struggled for much of the last two games, but finally has some time to prepare for the bowl game. The Mountaineers still have a stacked group of wide receivers, including David Sills V, Ka’Raun White and Gary Jennings. Backup running back Kennedy McCoy will give Mountaineer fans a glimpse of the future.
Utah likes to dominate the ball and time-of-possession clock, and held onto the ball for more than 32 minutes per game this season. However, Oregon transfer wide receiver Darren Carrington II has added an explosive potential to the offense.
However, running the ball is still the Utes’ bread and butter. Running back Zack Moss ran for 1,000 yards on fewer than 200 attempts. He’ll be the Mountaineers’ top priority on the ground.
This would be a much easier sell if Will Grier and Justin Crawford were playing. The Mountaineers were one of the most underrated teams in the nation before Grier went out.
This should still be an exciting matchup that will peer into West Virginia’s future. Chugunov and McCoy will be featured pieces heading forward. Seeing a strong performance from them would be encouraging.
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