College football: Cristobal leads Oregon against Boise State in Las Vegas Bowl
LAS VEGAS — Oregon players made it known they wanted Mario Cristobal to be their next head coach, with left tackle Tyrell Crosby circulating a petition that was signed by more than 70 teammates.
The Ducks will get their first chance to show why they believed in him when Cristobal leads them in his Oregon debut against No. 25 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.
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Cristobal was hired Dec. 8, three days after Willie Taggart left to become the head coach at Florida State. The former Florida International head coach and assistant to Nick Saban at Alabama had been the offensive line coach at Oregon (7-5) for less than one year, but Cristobal earned the trust of players in such a manner that they went public in an effort to boost his chances of landing the job permanently. As the program's third coach in 13 months, Cristobal now wants to repay the players' belief in him.
"It's the most humbling thing in the world," Cristobal said. "Every ounce is always going to be squeezed out of myself and the staff for these guys, and now we just got to find a way to squeeze out even more. They deserve that and they are going to get that every day."
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The Ducks' spin on the coaching carousel has overshadowed Boise State (10-3), which won eight of its last nine games after getting walloped 42-23 by Virginia at home on Sept. 22. That's just fine by the Mountain West champions.
"It's something that Boise always has done," Broncos cornerback DeAndre Pierce said. "Nobody believed in us when we played against Oklahoma, TCU, Arizona, none of those teams. It all comes down to us."
Here are some things to watch for as the Broncos and Ducks meet for the third time:
HERE'S HERBERT: In another banner season for Pac-12 quarterbacks, Justin Herbert made a strong argument that he is the most indispensable signal-caller in the conference despite throwing for a modest 13 touchdowns against three interceptions in seven starts. Oregon averaged 52.1 points per game with Herbert in action but only scored a total of 75 points in the five games he missed with a broken collarbone. Herbert is already being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2018, when he will be a junior. "I think the best part about him is that he's hungry," Cristobal said. "He is not content. He wants to be better at everything he does."
ROH A GO?: Boise State redshirt senior tight end Jake Roh missed the regular season finale and the Mountain West championship game with a left leg injury but still leads the team with nine touchdown receptions and has been doing everything possible to make sure he can play in his last game for the Broncos. The status of sophomore running back Alexander Mattison, who has 1,074 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, is also uncertain after he was hurt in the fourth quarter of the 17-14 win over Fresno State that gave Boise State its second conference title in four seasons.
POWER PLAYERS: The Broncos built their brand with wins over big-time programs, but have lost three straight games against Power 5 opposition, including a 31-12 no-show against Baylor in the Cactus Bowl last season. "This trip, it's felt more like a business trip than a bowl game, to be honest," Broncos defensive end Durrant Miles said.
NO ROLLS ROYCE: Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman will not play in the Las Vegas Bowl, becoming the latest prominent player to sit out a lower-tier bowl with an eye towards the NFL draft. Freeman rushed for 5,621 yards in his career, which ranks second in Pac-12 history and sixth among FBS players, and is one of four college players with at least 5,000 yards rushing and 800 yards receiving.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: The Las Vegas Bowl features a newly promoted head coach leading his team for the second straight season. Houston's Major Applewhite dropped his first game in charge after being elevated from offensive coordinator to head coach last season, losing 34-10 to San Diego State with a makeshift coaching staff.