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Dec. 20 — Poinsettia Bowl Preview at San Diego, Utah (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4), 9 p.m. (ESPN)
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl – December 20, 2007
Navy Midshipmen 8-4 SU, 4-7 ATS
Utah Utes 8-4 SU, 7-5 ATS
The first bowl game to kick off the postseason will be an entertaining one. Navy is back at the Poinsettia Bowl for the second time in three years and this is a game it knew it would be playing way back in September as it accepted an invite to San Diego as long as it became bowl eligible. This is first time in school history that the Midshipmen have gone to five straight bowl games but they will be without the coach that got them there each time as Paul Johnson accepted the same position at Georgia Tech.
Utah is bowling for the fifth straight season and will be looking for its seventh straight bowl victory. The Utes have won six consecutive bowl appearances, dating back to 1999, which is the second-longest postseason win streak in the nation. They started the season 1-3 and things were not looking good as injuries piled up but they started getting healthy and won seven straight games before losing a heartbreaker to BYU in the regular season finale. Three of the four losses this season came away from home.
Why Navy Will Cover
The Midshipmen should not miss a beat as new hire Ken Niumatalolo was the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator all six years under Johnson. Navy currently leads the nation in rushing with 351.5 ypg and will likely wrap up the rushing title for an unprecedented third straight season. The offense scored 30 or more points in 10 of 12 games and averaged 49 ppg over its last five games so this team is capable out not only outscoring anyone, but always in position for a backdoor cover.
Utah’s offense got better as the season went along since it was healthy once again but it did not close the season very strong. The Utes had a combined 544 total yards in its final two games and the offense topped 28 points only once in their final six games. Utah had a golden chance to take out its hated rival but gave up the winning score with only 38 seconds remaining. While that game will have been 26 days in the past once this one kicks, one wonders how it will respond from that defeat.
Why Utah Will Cover
The Utes rushing defense has really clamped down after a sluggish start. Utah allowed 198 ypg through its first five games but has allowed just 81.4 ypg over its last seven games. The scoring defense has been even better as it has allowed 20 points or fewer in its last six games and an average of just 9.5 ppg over that stretch. Navy has not faced many solid stop units this year as it has gone against teams ranked 113th, 91st, 96th, 94th and 88th in overall defense.
While Navy may have the best rushing offense, the defense is horrendous, allowing 438.2 ypg which is 99th in the country. The unit did improve toward the end of the season, posting two of its three best efforts on the year in the final two contests but those games were against Northern Illinois and Army, a combined 5-19. The Midshipmen played a very weak schedule overall, 89th in the country, and the victory over Air Force was their only win against a team playing in a bowl game.
**Utah is 24-9 ATS in road games when playing against a team with a winning record since 1992.
**Navy is 63-38 ATS as an underdog since 1992.
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