With the LA Bowl being the newest on the very long list of bowl games, there are some marketing lapses. Is it the LA Bowl? Is it the Jimmy Kimmel Bowl? The Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl? One thing is certain about the 2022 version of the bowl game. It has a west coast match-up that should be good viewing and will be a good on-site draw.
Washington State (Pac-12) vs. Fresno State (Mountain West)
Saturday, December 17th; 3:30 pm eastern
SoFi Stadium; Inglewood, CA
Washington State Cougars
Washington State comes into the post-season under the radar for a P5 school. The Cougars finished 7-5 to qualify for a bowl game for the second straight year. But only one of those wins was against a bowl-eligible team, as they beat Wisconsin, in Madison, early in the season.
They have an efficient if not a particularly good offense. As far as under the radar goes, the Cougars’ quarterback is Cameron Ward, a transfer from Incarnate Word. He completed 64% of his passes on the season and threw for just under 3,100 yards. Ward also had 23 touchdown passes against eight interceptions. He also has five rushing touchdowns on the season. WAZZU does throw for 265 yards per game. They also rushed for 112 yards per game. That is enough to get them 27.8 points per game, which is 72nd in the country.
Unlike past Washington State teams, it is the defense that is keeping them in games. The Cougars give up just over 22 points per game. That is 33rd best in the entire country. However, as is part of the coverage of any bowl game these days, Washington State will be missing one of the key elements of the defense. All Pac-12 linebacker Daiyan Henley is opting out of the game in order to protect his NFL prospects. The senior from Los Angeles was second in the conference with 106 tackles. Some draft boards have him as high as the number five linebacker in next Spring’s draft. This means senior linebacker Ben Wilson is likely to get the first start of his WSU career.
The Cougars will also be working without defensive coordinator Brian Ward, who is moving on to take the same position at Arizona State.
Just how under the radar is Washington State? Last week on CNN, on a graphic on Pac-12 coaches, head coach Jake Dickert was referred to as “Jack.” Washington State did not make a lot of headlines this season, but they have the talent to win the game.
Fresno State Bulldogs
Fresno State comes into the game 9-4 overall and 7-1 in conference play and the Mountain West champion.
The Bulldogs escaped the major damage from the transfer portal that many schools suffered. While head coach Kalen DeBoer left after last season to go to Washington, his star quarterback stayed behind. Jeff Tedford came out of retirement to return to coach Fresno State when DeBoer left and produced the kind of season people in California’s Central Valley have come to expect from the Bulldogs.
Tedford had been the head coach at Fresno State from 2017-2019 with a 26-14 record. He retired after the 2019 season for medical reasons. He had a heart problem in previous years but was medically cleared to return to the sidelines when DeBoer went to Seattle. Upon the announcement of Tedford’s return, star quarterback Jake Haener announced he was staying at Fresno State, after flirting with the idea of transferring.
Haener only played in nine games, battling injuries through part of the season, so his numbers did not pop off the charts like they did last season. Still, he completed 72% of his passes for 2,616 yards and 18 touchdowns. His passing numbers per game are good enough to put the team 27th nationally in passing offense. And the headline here is that he is not opting out of the bowl game.
The Bulldogs also have a thousand-yard rusher in the backfield in Jordan Mims. The fifth-year senior has 1,163 yards to go with his 16 touchdown runs. As of publication, he also intends to play in the bowl game.
There is also the intangible when it comes to Fresno State. The fan support. The fan base travels exceptionally well to games within the region. The fans leaving town on a Friday night for a Saturday game used to draw the quip, “Last one out of town, please turn off the lights.” With SoFi being only about a four-hour drive from the Fresno State campus, expect there to be a very large Bulldog contingency.