Fresh off winning its first-ever Mountain West title, Utah State looks to make a statement against a Power 5 opponent when it faces Oregon State in the inaugural LA Bowl.
The Aggies (10-3, 6-2 MWC) are appearing in their ninth bowl game in 11 seasons and 15th overall. This latest bowl game appearance is likely sweeter than the others. Utah State went from a one-win team to champions in its first season under head coach Blake Anderson. The Aggies earned their first conference title since 2012 with a decisive 46-13 victory over San Diego State in the Mountain West Football Championship Game.
The Beavers (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) are in a bowl game for the first time since 2013, and it is the team's 18th bowl game appearance overall. Oregon State went 6-0 at home — which included a 42-34 victory over eventual Pac-12 champion Utah — to finally get over the hump. The Beavers clinched bowl eligibility with a 24-10 victory over Arizona State in mid-November.
Oregon State is 3-0 all-time against Utah State. The two teams last met in 1998 in Logan, a 20-16 victory for the Beavers.
Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl Presented by Stifel: Oregon State (7-5) vs. Utah State (10-3)
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, Calif.)
Spread: Oregon State -7
When Oregon State Has the Ball
B.J. Baylor is the cornerstone of the Beavers' potent offensive attack. Oregon State a tough customer when it comes to running the ball. The Beavers led the Pac-12 with 217.3 rushing yards per game during the regular season. Baylor is the driving force behind that success. He led the Pac-12 with 1,258 rushing yards while scoring 13 touchdowns and averaging 6.02 yards per carry. The Beavers went 5-1 this season in games where Baylor rushed for 100 yards or more.
Utah State is good at generating negative plays, generating 7.9 tackles for a loss per game — which ranks fourth nationally. The Aggies' ability to pressure the line of scrimmage may force Oregon State to go to the air more often than it prefers.
The good news for the Beavers is that Chance Nolan is an accurate enough passer and dynamic playmaker to keep defenses honest. Nolan threw for 2,414 yards and 19 touchdowns while completing 63.5 percent of his attempts during the regular season. He is coming off a career-best 308 passing yards against Oregon. Oregon State won all six games this season in which Nolan completed at least 66 percent of his passes.
Trevon Bradford, Nolan's top target, needs 121 receiving yards to reach 2,000 in his career. Bradford has 149 career receptions and needs just three catches to pass Jacquizz Rodgers for 10th on Oregon State's career receptions list.
When Utah State Has the Ball
An explosive offense is one major reason why the Aggies quickly climbed out of the cellar this season. Quarterback Logan Bonner and wide receiver Deven Thompkins have been the twin catalysts driving Utah State's resurgence on that side of the ball.
Both Bonner and Thompkins set school records during the regular season. Thompkins accumulated the most receiving yards (1,589) in a single season and Bonner threw the most touchdown passes (36) in a season. They are not done rewriting the record books either. Thompkins, who has caught 96 passes this season, needs five more receptions to set a new single-season record. Bonner, who has thrown for 3,560 yards this season, needs eight more passing yards to overtake Jordan Love for the single-season record.
The duo could cause problems for Oregon State since the Beavers allow 241.1 passing yards per game. They have given up at least 250 passing yards in seven games, and the Beavers went 3-4 in those contests.
Utah State running back Calvin Tyler Jr. will get a reunion with Oregon State. Tyler transferred from the Beavers at the end of last season after spending four seasons with the program and being buried on the depth chart virtually the whole time. He has enjoyed some success with the Aggies in 2021, churning out a team-high 764 rushing yards.
Utah State went 7-0 on the road during the regular season for the first time in school history. Those seven road victories also are a school record. It was a much different story for Oregon State. The Beavers won a single game outside their home stadium during the regular season. Both programs have rebounded from hitting rock bottom under Gary Andersen. Utah State's turnaround was a bit quicker and more dramatic than what Oregon State experienced. Both teams will be hungry to prove themselves in the LA Bowl, and it will be an evenly matched contest. Ultimately, the Aggies' track record of success outside Logan will give them an edge.
Prediction: Utah State 28, Oregon State 24
Podcast: Early Signing Day, Coaching News, QB Transfers, and Early Bowl Previews
– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.