Navy (7-5) vs. San Diego State (7-5)
Dec. 23, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: To catch a glimpse of San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey, the latest in a pipeline of under-the-radar rushing talents at the school. This year he carried the ball 255 times for 1,761 yards, third nationally, with 19 touchdowns. He torched San Jose State for 261 yards with three scores in the Aztecs’ regular-season finale. The Poinsettia Bowl is also a chance to watch Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who accounted for 2,008 total yards (1,182 rushing, 826 passing) with 27 touchdowns this fall. Reynolds has 62 rushing scores in his career, the most in NCAA history for a quarterback.
• Keep an eye on: How the Aztecs’ defense fares against the triple-option. San Diego State allows just 4.99 yards per play, 26th in the FBS, and boasts first-team All-Mountain West selections in defensive backs Damontae Kazee and J.J. Whittaker. But it has yet to see an offense that operates quite like Navy’s does. The Midshipmen have three players with more than 600 rushing yards -- Reynolds, Noah Copeland and Chris Swain -- and can present problems for opponents who are unaccustomed to their unique and relentless ground game.
• Did you know: San Diego State has won eight consecutive games against the service academies, the longest active streak in the nation. It last played Navy in the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl, when current Denver Broncos back Ronnie Hillman ran for 228 yards in the Aztecs’ 35-14 win.
• Final analysis: After limping to a 2-4 start, Navy came on strong. It went 5-1 the rest of the way, with its only loss coming in a 49-39 defeat to Notre Dame on Nov. 1, and will look to continue its recent surge against San Diego State. However, the Aztecs have home-field advantage -- the bowl game will be played at Qualcomm Stadium, where they went 6-0 during the regular season -- and an ideal matchup against the country’s 100th-ranked rushing defense (4.90 yards per carry allowed). Though Reynolds will have his moments, Pumphrey will make the difference.
• The pick: San Diego State 35, Navy 24