Tanner Mangum and BYU take on former Mountain West foe Wyoming in San Diego
The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl is always in the running for longest bowl name of any given bowl season, but this season’s edition actually rates high on the entertainment scale as well with a pair of old conference foes squaring off in America’s finest city.
Six years ago, BYU (8-4) left the Mountain West Conference to set its path as a football independent, leaving behind decades of history with teams that the Cougars battled against for conference championships. One of the notable ones was Wyoming.
The Cowboys (8-5) didn’t get the better of BYU very often, but the emotion in BYU-Wyoming games was always testy, especially those late November games in Laramie at 7,220 feet.
This game will take place at sea level so elevation won’t be a factor, but the two teams look to put an exclamation point on seasons that have went better than many predicted entering the year.
Poinsettia Bowl: BYU vs. Wyoming (San Diego)
Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: Qualcomm Stadium (San Diego)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: BYU -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Rivalry renewed
On the Wyoming side of this matchup, the Cowboys are titling this game a “rivalry renewed.” For BYU, the Cougars didn’t always view Wyoming as a rival considering everyone in the old WAC and Mountain West looked at them as their rival. But, there were some memorable games.
Wyoming’s athletic director Tom Burman said in 2010 after the Cougars left the Mountain West that he doubts that Wyoming would ever be interested in scheduling BYU ever again. There’s some bad blood from fans and administrators but the current teams aren’t familiar with this series and the intensity that comes with it. But don’t be surprised if that intensity shows itself in Qualcomm Stadium, as it should be a fun bowl game atmosphere.
2. Pair of great running backs
Bowl games are always more fun when there are great skill players lining up and this game definitely has that in running backs Jamaal Williams for BYU and Wyoming’s Brian Hill.
Williams has rushed for 1,165 yards and 11 touchdowns in the nine games he has played in, while Hill has piled up 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns in 13 games.
The question then becomes, which defense is better suited to stopping these talented backs? If you look at the numbers, you’d have to give the edge to BYU.
The Cougars are ninth in the country against the run, allowing only 108.4 rushing yards per game. Wyoming on the other hand is 88th in the FBS, giving up 202.7 yards on the ground per game.
3. BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum gets his first start since 2015 bowl
Taysom Hill suffered his fourth season-ending injury in the regular season finale against Utah State last month, which means Tanner Mangum will get the start in this Poinsettia Bowl.
Mangum is a different flavor than Hill. The sophomore is the better passer but as he will himself admit, running the football is not going to be his thought. Will BYU air it out more than usual with Mangum under center? Probably. But the game plan won’t change too much. Williams is still going to be the focal point, but Mangum’s throwing prowess compared to Hill will keep Wyoming’s defense honest if the Cougar wide receivers can create separation.
The city of San Diego has been home to some quality football games over the years. The Holiday Bowl used to be known for wild finishes that usually involved this same BYU program year after year.
This Poinsettia Bowl should be another entertaining contest that could go down to the wire, which would nothing new for these two teams with plenty of shared history and crazy finishes. But ultimately defense is going to win this ball game and BYU has the better defense on paper. First-year defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki has done a terrific job with the Cougars and they will be aggressive to make things uneasy for Wyoming QB Josh Allen.
Wyoming’s defense will not have an answer for Jamaal Williams. Williams is entering his final game as a BYU Cougar and it’ll be his final opportunity to showcase his talents to NFL scouts before the Scouting Combine in February. Expect the Swagdaddy (as they call him in Provo) to get 25-30 touches en route to a Cougar victory.
Prediction: BYU 26, Wyoming 17
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.