The Houston Cougars won’t end their season with a trip to a New Year’s Six Bowl like last season but they have earned a nice consolation prize with a trip to Las Vegas against one of the premier programs in the G5. We reached out to our underdogs on the west coast at Mountain West Connection to get some information on the Aztecs for a joint Q&A for the Las Vegas Bowl. You can check out our answers to his questions here. Thanks to Ted McGovern for filling us in! For more Mountain West Connection intel on the Vegas Bowl checkout their preview podcast.
CS: What has made Rocky Long so successful at San Diego State after years of underachieving with the likes of Chuck Long and Tom Craft? Like Houston, San Diego St. could have easily earned a trip to a New Year’s Six Bowl. Do Aztec fans consider this season a success?
MWC: Rocky has vast experience as a player and coach, and has assembled a team of top-shelf coaches/coordinators for San Diego State. SDSU athletics has also created an environment for Rocky Long to succeed. As a result, the Aztecs have built solid offensive, defensive and special teams. San Diego State has also done well with recruiting on an increasingly national level under Long. Rocky plays old-school football, and in clutch situations he'll put the game on the line. Sometimes this leads to success and occasionally- failure. During our conference loss against Wyoming this season, we could have kicked an extra point at zero seconds in the fourth quarter to tie our game and move into overtime, but Rocky went for the 2-point conversion for the win- unsuccessfully. His guts lead to glory in other cases. Long is responsible for bringing the Aztecs to six of our seven consecutive bowl game appearances.
Like Houston, San Diego State entered this season with visions of greatness. We considered possibilities of a perfect season, and (no offense) hoped for other NY6 potentials- like the Cougars- to stumble. After some decent pre-season wins, including an epic win against the Golden Bears where Pumphrey ran for 281 yards, we lost to a middling Sun Belt team, the University of South Alabama. It kind of took the magic out of the equation. Then, after going 6-0 in conference, we sustained a one-point loss to Wyoming that could have been avoided, and the next week we were defeated by Colorado State. We re-tooled and played a great championship game against Wyoming, to clinch our second-straight MW title. Facing a potentially dreary pairing against an underwhelming North Texas in the Las Vegas Bowl, it re-energized the Aztec Nation to learn we'd be playing against Houston- a truly formidable and worthy opponent. Yes, all of us- especially the Aztecs football team- are excited for the game.
CS: I’m of the believer that the AAC was the best G5 conference this year and will be the best G5 conference most of the time as long as we don’t have another round of conference realignment. How do you think the MWC stacks up to the AAC and what will it take for the MWC to be the best G5 conference?
MWC: The Mountain West Conference has potential to be the best. It hurt when Utah, BYU and TCU changed conferences, but we're still loaded with talented programs- and a few stragglers. When you go against Air Force, and Boise State, and New Mexico, it is hard to believe that San Jose State is in the same conference. They are building a program, slowly mind you, but our conference has high highs and low lows. There are also deeply established programs going through rebuilding phases, like Fresno State and UNLV. It would not surprise me if our conference expanded, or if a few teams made the leap to Power 5 conferences.
CS: Typically the Las Vegas Bowl is the MWC Champion against a Pac 12 team. But this year the Pac 12 didn’t have enough bowl eligible teams thus Houston got the spot. Are Aztec fans bummed out about missing a chance to beat a P5 team? Are they excited about the matchup with Houston?
MWC: We hoped to be paired against a P5 team, as a resume builder. I personally hoped we'd see Stanford in the Las Vegas Bowl. Our champion team is usually paired with a middling Pac-12 team. I believe the Aztecs would execute a commanding win against a middling Pac-12 team right now. Nonetheless, I think a win against Houston is also a resume builder. Houston is one of the most elite G5 teams. We'd like to be perceived that way also. A win against Houston would garner good national attention and respect for the Aztecs.
CS: What type of offense does San Diego St. run. We all know about Donnel Pumphrey but who else should Houston fans be aware of this Saturday?
MWC: So many teams boil our offense down to Donnel Pumphrey's run game. We hope people keep believing that. Rashad Penny and Juwan Washington are both superb running backs. We have a decent passing game that may or may not come into play- depending upon our opponents. We also have Christian Chapman, a QB who can execute the triple option and run for the chains. Most teams aren't aware that Pumphrey typically sits out a quarter a game. Houston might be very surprised by our special teams as well.
CS: Rocky Long is known for having strong defenses as they have allowed 21 points per game this year. But down the stretch they struggled as Wyoming scored 34 points and Colorado State put up 63. What makes this unit strong and what caused them to struggle to end the year?
MWC: That's a good question. I think a few errors coupled with some solid play by the Pokes cost us the Wyoming game. During the Colorado game, we were dealing with injuries and fatigue, after returning from several hard road games playing in altitude, extreme cold and rain. Other conferences don't realize just how extensive the Mountain West teams travel. Our guys are healthy, and rested up now.
CS: Who wins the Las Vegas Bowl?
MWC: Final Score: Aztecs 33- Houston 28.