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Arizona Bowl Preview and Prediction: Nevada vs. Colorado State

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RashardHiggins_2015_coloradostate.jpg

Seeing teams with a 5-7 mark reach the postseason isn't the only quirk of the 2015 bowl season. The Arizona Bowl, a first-year bowl game, offers another oddity. It is the only bowl featuring two teams from the same conference and presents the clearest evidence yet that the number of bowl games has spiraled out of control.

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Nevada and Colorado State will tangle on Tuesday night. Both teams compete in the Mountain West Conference, although they play in separate divisions. The two teams did not play in the regular season and are not scheduled to do so in 2017. Neither team is thrilled about the matchup nor are Mountain West Conference officials. 

Colorado State leads the all-time series 11-2. The Rams are 2-0 against the Wolf Pack since the two teams became Mountain West rivals. Nevada last beat Colorado State in 2010 when they defeated the Rams en route to finishing with a 13-1 record and earning a WAC championship.

Arizona Bowl: Nevada vs. Colorado State (Tuscon)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Tuesday) 

TV: Campus Insiders

Spread: Colorado State -3

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Colorado State limit turnovers?

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Holding onto the ball has been a problem for Colorado State all season. The Rams have totaled 26 turnovers in 12 games, throwing 15 interceptions and losing 11 fumbles. They finished 113th in the nation in turnover margin and had more giveaways than all other Mountain West teams except Hawaii. An inability to hold onto the ball has short-circuited Colorado State's offense on many occasions. It could prove problematic against Nevada's defense. Wolf Pack seniors Ian Seau and Lenny Jones can get pressure up front. They combined for 15 sacks during the regular season. Nevada's secondary has also tallied 13 interceptions this season.

Related: Predictions for Every 2015-16 College Football Bowl Game

2. Pounding the Ground

Nevada has built its offensive identity around a run-oriented attack. The Wolf Pack feature a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in James Butler and Don Jackson. Butler leads the team with 1,153 yards and Jackson is right on his heels with 1,029 yards. When Nevada can establish the run and control the clock, it equals big success. The Wolf Pack are 6-1 this season in games where they accumulate 200 or more yards on the ground.

3. Winning combination

Any highlight reel from Tuscon is bound to feature a heavy dose of Rashard Higgins. The Colorado State junior is his school's career leader in receptions (230) and receiving touchdowns (31). Higgins has totaled 933 yards and eight touchdowns on 66 catches in 2015, even while battling injuries at times during the season. His presence has helped Nick Stevens enjoy a solid first season as the Rams' starting quarterback. Stevens ranked as the no. 2 passer in the Mountain West during the regular season. He tallied 2,369 yards on 189-of-305 passing. Stevens led the league with 21 touchdown passes.

Final Analysis

Nevada and Colorado State are well-matched on paper, which you would expect from a pair of middle-of-the-pack teams from the same conference. What it means is this will be a close and exciting bowl game. The edge likely goes to the Rams. Colorado State has a more balanced offense than Nevada, and the Rams have a definite advantage on special teams with world-class punter Hayden Hunt. The Wolf Pack have never beaten Colorado State outside of Reno and that streak is likely to continue into 2017. 

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Prediction: Colorado State 24, Nevada 20

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

(Rashard Higgins photo courtesy of Colorado State/Dan Byers; Ian Seau photo by John Byrne)