Question mark: Is San Diego State really any good?
I haven’t seen the Aztecs play. I’m assuming you haven’t either. They have a stout defense and they run the ball, but who’ve they played? There were only two other teams in the Mountain West that finished with more than seven wins. SDSU didn’t have to play Boise State and beat Air Force by a field goal in the conference championship. Other than that, the Aztecs used a weak schedule to their advantage, beating up on mediocre conference opponents. So, how good is San Diego State, really?
Game inside the game: Cincinnati air attack vs. San Diego State pass defense
Cincinnati’s offense ranks third in passing yards per game, which should shock you. Normally, teams that chuck the ball around a lot do it with one quarterback. Cincinnati, however, has been splitting time between Gunner Kiel and Hayden Moore all season. Unfortunately, personal reasons will keep Kiel from playing in the game, or even making the trip. Hopefully, all that alternating throughout the season will pay off. Moore will have to step in against a secondary that doesn’t allow much. SDSU comes in giving up only 176 yards per game through the air. With their starter out and their opponent shutting down what they do best, the Bearcats have their work cut out for them.
Player to watch: Donnel Pumphrey, running back, San Diego State
Pumphrey is a little guy at 5’9”, 180 pounds, but don’t let his size fool you. This guy’s the real deal. Pumphrey has accumulated 4,173 yards and 44 touchdowns in his career, as he wraps up his junior season. The Aztec offense, which averages 235 yards on the ground, leans on Pumphrey like few other teams lean on their running back. Since Cincinnati allows 190 yards rushing per game, Pumphrey is poised for a primetime performance.
X-factor: Turnover battle and time of possession
San Diego State leads the FBS with a +19 turnover margin and holds on to the ball for 32 minutes, 30 seconds, on average. Obviously, winning the turnover battle and controlling the clock are two big parts of the Aztecs’ game. If the Bearcats can take the ball away and hang on to it, they’ll be halfway to beating the Aztecs at their own game.
Prediction: San Diego State over Cincinnati, 28-20
Cincinnati is good enough to keep this close. In the end though, everything working against them will outweigh the Bearcats’ solid play.