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Who’s the LA Bowl Favorite: Fresno State or Washington State?

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Fresno State is 3-1 vs. Pac-12 teams in bowl games. (JImmy Kimmel LA Bowl)
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Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl: Washington State (7-5) vs. Fresno State (9-4), Saturday, Dec. 17, 12:30 p.m. PT, (ABC)

FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK COLLEGE LINE: Fresno State by 3 1/2 points

Series record: Washington State leads 3-1.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

The Mountain West champion Bulldogs can become the first FBS team to win 10 games after starting the season 1-4. The Cougars are trying to win a bowl game for the first time since the 2018 Alamo Bowl, which would make Jake Dickert the sixth coach in school history to win at least eight games in a season.

KEY MATCHUP

Fresno State QB Jake Haener vs. Washington State’s secondary. Haener has been sensational since returning from the fractured ankle he sustained on Sept. 17 against Southern California, throwing 14 touchdown passes to two interceptions in six games. The gutty senior will try to end his college career by leading the Bulldogs to a seventh straight win as the starter, which would be the team’s ninth in a row. To do so, Haener will have to attack an aggressive group of defensive backs. S Sam Lockett III led the Cougars with three interceptions, and Chau Smith-Wade (32 solo tackles, eight pass breakups, two interceptions) and Derrick Langford Jr. (24 solo tackles, six pass breakups, two interceptions) excel at cornerback.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Washington State: QB Cameron Ward had an erratic start adjusting to life in a Power 5 conference, but he didn’t throw an interception over the final five games. Ward should be able to extend plays against a Bulldogs defense that ranked 79th in the FBS in sacks.

Fresno State: WR Nikko Remigio was one of five FBS players to return two punt returns for touchdowns, going 70 yards for a score in the Mountain West title game against Boise State. Remigio also has 69 receptions for 768 yards, ranking second for the Bulldogs in both categories, and his five touchdown catches are tied with Jalen Moreno-Cropper for the team lead.

Jaylen Moreno-Cropper (5) leads the Bulldogs receiving corps with 79 receptions for 1,044 yards and five TDs. (GV Wire File)

FACTS & FIGURES

The Cougars will be without offensive coordinator Eric Morris, who was hired as head coach at North Texas, and defensive coordinator Brian Ward, who took the same position at Arizona State. LB Daiyan Henley opted out of the bowl game after ranking second in the Pac-12 in tackles (106) and third in tackles for loss (12)

The Mountain West champion is playing a Pac-12 team in its bowl game for the seventh time in the past 10 seasons. It is 4-2 in such matchups, with Utah State defeating the Oregon State 24-13 in the inaugural LA Bowl last season.

The Bulldogs are 3-1 in bowl games against Pac-12 foes, including a 31-20 win over Arizona State in the 2018 Las Vegas Bowl. This is the first time Fresno State will have played three Pac-12 teams in the same season. They lost 35-32 to Oregon State and 45-17 at USC early in the season.

Excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Washington State is playing in a bowl game for the seventh straight season to extend the longest streak in school history.

Washington State scored on 91% of red-zone possessions (43 of 47), which led the Pac-12 and ranked 10th nationally. They scored touchdowns on 34 of those drives (72%).

Fresno State CB Cam Lockridge has five interceptions, the most in a season by a Bulldog since 2013. He had two in the Mountain West title game and was named defensive MVP.

Washington State RB Nakia Watson had back-to-back games with 100 yards rushing this season, becoming the first Cougar to do so since 2005.

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