The first bowl games of the season typically involve lower-level matchups between teams that are simply lucky enough to qualify for the game. That was not the case for Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl between Utah and Colorado State, which might have been one of the most anticipated games in the month of December for NFL scouts, as there were a number of quality prospects on both sides of the ball.
An explosive first quarter filled with big plays proved to be just about all Utah needed in the 45-10 win, though.
The one-on-one battle between Utah defensive end Nate Orchard and Colorado State offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo had the feel of a heavyweight battle early on, but it was the Utes' star who got the better of the matchup and won on all cards in a unanimous decision. Orchard recorded one sack in the game to take the national lead in that category this season and was able to disrupt the Rams' offense on just about every play, no matter where he lined up.
The Ted Hendricks Award winner as the nation's top defensive end, Orchard was recently labeled by a general manager as a third-day pick (Rounds 4-7) in the 2015 NFL Draft and seemed to use that as motivation in the team's first bowl game in three seasons. While the senior didn't stand up in an outside linebacker's stance, he did display active hands, dropped into coverage to break up a pass and was able to effectively play the run to limit a high-powered offense.
Sambrailo, who was not matched up against Orchard on every play, did what he could to hold off the Utah defensive line by showing off his power on run blocks and strength in pass protection, but he has had better games against top competition.
CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson, a potential late-round selection, had one of his worst games in a while but still managed to throw for 227 yards and an interception, completing 58 percent of his passes. Alabama transfer Dee Hart was removed from the game after it was out of reach, rushing for just 21 yards on seven carries.
Biletnikoff Award finalist Rashard Higgins was the lone bright spot for the Rams, breaking free for several big plays on his way to a 109-yard outing.
On the other side, Utah's offense could hardly be contained. The Utes started the game by gambling on a trick play that paid off and never seemed to look back from there.
Utes signal-caller Travis Wilson flashed as a dual threat, throwing for 158 yards and a touchdown while rushing for a season-high 91 yards and three scores. He was able to break free as the Rams keyed on star tailback Devontae Booker, who churned out several remarkable runs in a 162-yard effort. Booker faces his own NFL draft decision after being one of the top rushers in the Pac-12 this season.
Wilson's play down the stretch this season -- he was taken out early in the fourth quarter of Saturday's blowout -- has to be very encouraging for the Utes considering they return most of their starting 22 in 2015 and will likely be labeled one of the favorites in the tough Pac-12 South division.
Saturday was about this year's team, however, which rebounded to capture the program's 14th bowl victory in 18 chances (the best bowl winning percentage in the nation for schools with at least 15 bowl appearances). It was a perfect ending to a bounce-back season in Salt Lake City.