Two 8-4 teams with a lot in common, including talented sophomore QB's, offensive playmakers by the boatload, somewhat suspect defenses, and hopeful outlooks for the future, will meet in El Paso this Saturday (2 PM EST, CBS) in the first ever meeting of Washington State and Miami.
The 2015 Sun Bowl promises to be a fun one.
With signal callers Brad Kaaya and Luke Falk leading their respective offenses, this could be very well be a shoot out.
While the two squads may not be exact mirror images of each other, they share a lot of strengths.
The big difference in the two programs right now however, is their respective coaching situations.
For WSU, Offensive Mad Scientist/Head Coach Mike Leach, finally broke through with a big season that included wins over Arizona, ASU, and UCLA and a near monster upset over Stanford.
Leach has cemented himself as the man to lead the way in Pullman for the immediate future.
In Coral Gables, Mark Richt (who will be observing this game, not coaching it) is the man UM hopes brings them back to glory.
In the meantime, charismatic Interim Head Coach Larry Scott gets one more game at the helm for the Hurricanes.
Scott may very well be retained on Richt's staff. But this weekend's contest has to be bittersweet for the man who has led Miami to a 4-1 record following the dismissal of Al Golden.
How will all of this affect the play on the field, if at all?
We will not know that until Saturday after kick off.
In the meantime, let's take a look at how the two teams match-up between the lines:
When Miami has the football: Kaaya has a plethora of weapons to go to, including slot WR Herb Waters and 6'3 outside threat, Rashawn Scott. But the two players I think make the biggest difference in this game, are Stacy Coley UM's most explosive receiver, and 6'4 245 pound H back David Njoku. WSU's D, led by DT Destiny Vaeao, is pretty solid if not spectacular up front. RB Joe Yearby may find tough sledding between the tackles. But the Cougars defensive back field does not have the athletes to cover UM, Coley and Njoku in particular. Hercules Mata'afa is their best pass rusher, and Washington State has to hope he can create some havoc Vs an O line that will be minus RT Sunny Odogwu. But Kc McDermott should be fine filling in for Odogwu. If the Hurricanes protect Kaaya consistently, he could be in for a huge day passing the ball. The WSU corners like to play off the ball, so patience will be required. But there is no reason why the UM offense should not be able to put up some monster numbers in this one. They need to bring their focus though, limit the penalties (a problem all year), and convert more TDs than FGs in the red zone (another issue all year).
When Washington State has the football: In any given game, Falk can look to upwards of 10 different targets to distribute the ball to. But the three main guys to keep an eye on are Gabe Marks (best run after catch/best overall), Dom Williams (best outside threat), and River Cracraft ("crafty" slot guy). The 'Canes can match up with big time CB Artie Burns, and the very underrated Corn Elder. But Tracy Howard has been up and down all year as the third corner. UM really needs him to step up in his final game as a 'Cane in order to have a chance to slow down this O. Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad Thomas are good enough at DE to get some pressure on Falk, and that would help. But WSU uses a lot of screens and quick slants to nullify the opposing pass rush. This game could very well come down to how UM's D tackles after the short passes are completed. Marks in particular is slippery in the open field. When the Cougars run the ball (about 20 % of the time), they have three backs that can all carry the mail. Gerard Wicks is the big back. But the guy who could give Miami a lot of trouble is speedy Keith Harrington. Bottom line, WSU is going to move the ball and score. The Hurricanes need to find a way to get a few stops somehow someway, though to win. Turnovers might be their best bet.
Prediction: Last team with the ball wins. Both teams put up 400+ yards in passing, but a big time kick by Michael Badgley wins it. Hurricanes 38-35.