Editor's Note: For the sixth consecutive year, the Mountain West will send five teams into postseason bowl games. The league has earned 56 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 31-20 (.608) all-time record in those contests. Over the last eight seasons, the MW has captured the Bowl Challenge Cup four times and owns the best win percentage in bowl games among the 11 FBS conferences with a 24-12 mark (.667). The MW is the only conference to win the trophy four times since the award's inception in 2002-03. This is the second in a series of five previews analyzing the matchups between this year's MW bowl participants and their respective opponents.
Overview: San Diego State, which captured its first league title since 1998 by finishing in a three-way tie atop the Mountain West with Boise State and Fresno State, won the Poinsettia Bowl two years ago with a 35-14 victory over Navy. The game matches a pair of former MW foes, with the teams' last meeting culminating in a 24-21 win by BYU on Oct. 9, 2010. SDSU, which is 2-5 in bowl games, is making its third straight postseason appearance after dropping a 32-30 decision to Louisiana in last year's New Orleans Bowl. BYU, which earlier signed a three-year agreement to play in the Poinsettia Bowl has appeared in seven straight postseason contests, its latest coming in a 24-21 win over Tulsa in the 2011 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. The Cougars, who are 12-17-1 in bowl games, lead the all-time series against SDSU 27-7-1.
When San Diego State Has the Ball: Since losing starting quarterback Ryan Katz to a season-ending ankle injury against Nevada in Week 8, the Aztecs have largely leaned on the running back tandem of sophomore Adam Muema (112.9 ypg) and senior Walter Kazee (68.5). The duo has enabled SDSU to rise to 16th in the nation in rushing offense with an average of 229.17 yards per game. Muema, who has six 100-yard games this season, rushed for a career-high 255 yards in the regular-season finale at Wyoming to post his second career 200-yard game. The 255 yards were the ninth-most in a game in program history and most since Larry Ned had 285 in 2001. Junior Gavin Escobar, a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, annually presented to the nation's top tight end, has six touchdown receptions this season and has multiple receptions in 10 of the team's 12 games. SDSU has outscored opponents by an average of 15 points during its current seven-game win streak. The challenge for the Aztecs will be finding room to run against a BYU defense that ranks second in the nation in rush defense (84.25 ypg).
When BYU Has the Ball: Though seniors Riley Nelson and James Lark will likely split time at quarterback against the Aztecs, Lark made the most of his first start of the season in the regular-season finale at New Mexico State, completing 34-of-50 passes for 384 yards and six touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman was on the receiving end of five of Lark's TD passes, establishing a BYU single-game record. Hoffman, who ranks 20th nationally with an average of 94.50 receiving yards per game, has seven 100-yard games in 2012. He has caught at least one pass in 31 consecutive contests. Meanwhile, running back Jamaal Williams enters the contest with 744 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on the ground. His rushing total is the highest ever by a BYU true freshman and his 11 scoring runs equal the school record for a true freshman. San Diego State leads the MW in rushing defense, limiting opponents to just 140.25 yards per game. The Aztecs ranked third in the MW in sacks during the regular season, with sophomore linebacker Jake Fely (86 tackles, 11 for loss) registering a team-high seven quarterback sacks.
Special Teams: After enduring some early-season struggles, Aztecs senior placekicker Chance Marden has connected on eight of his last nine field goal attempts. SDSU junior Colin Lockett has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season. BYU, meanwhile, which blocked five kicks during the regular season, possesses a legitimate weapon in senior punter Riley Stephenson, whose average of 47.31 yards ranks No. 2 in the nation.
Analysis: SDSU sophomore quarterback Adam Dingwell has performed admirably in place of injured starter Ryan Katz, setting career highs in completions (19) and completion percentage (79.17 percent) in the regular-season finale at Wyoming. But this figures to be no small test for Dingwell, who will be facing a team that ranks third in the country in total defense (266.33 ypg) and has allowed more than 24 points only once this season (42 vs. Oregon State). Meanwhile, BYU is facing the task of not only winning what is essentially a home game for the Aztecs, but trying to snap the momentum of a team that has won seven straight, its longest streak since winning seven consecutive contests from Nov. 15, 1980-Oct. 10, 1981.