Arizona Bowl: Toledo vs Wyoming
By Simon Carroll
Welcome to Bowl Season! 84 teams, 42 matchups, 35 different cities; if you thought the College Football postseason was restricted to the four teams in the playoffs, think again. In this game preview we turn our attention to the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl, between the Toledo Rockets and Wyoming Comboys:
Where and When
Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl
Location: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ
Date: 30th December 2023
Time: 4:30pm (ET)
The Story So Far...
Held at the home of the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson, the Arizona Bowl is a fairly new inclusion on the collegiate postseason calendar, having played it’s inaugural matchup back in 2015. Whilst it flirted with the Sun Belt for a few years, the bowl game has, for the most part, pitted a MAC opponent against a Mountain West team. Sponsored by the polarising Barstool Sports since 2021, the Arizona state Board of Supervisors subsequently pulled nearly $40k in funding from the game in protest to comments from it’s founder David Portnoy. Nevertheless, the game remains lucrative for the winner, with prize money exceeding $350k.
For the first time in it’s history, a team makes back to back appearances. 2023 will be Wyoming’s third trip to the Arizona Bowl, the most by any program in it’s history. They arrive in Tucson on the back of an 8-4 campaign in Laramie – Head Coach Craig Bohl’s sixth winning season in ten years at the helm of the Cowboys. Saurday’s bowl game will be Bohl’s 121st and last in charge of Wyoming, after announcing his retirement earlier this month. With a record of 60-60 as it stands, he’ll be hoping for one more win to leave a +.500 legacy at War Memorial Stadium.
This season was a little more bittersweet for their opponents. Toledo racked up an impressive 11 wins in Jason Candle’s 8th season in charge of the Rockets, the second time he has achieved double-digit victories. Their only loss in the regular season came by two points to Power-5 Illinois, and yet they couldn’t finish the job – Miami (OH) exacting revenge for an earier defeat in the season to beat them in the MAC Championship Game. Nevertheless, Candle’s two conference titles and 65-34 record at Toledo explains why he’s getting noticed by other programs – his tenure in North Ohio probably extended by one season thanks to that last defeat in Detroit.
Part of the reason for Toledo’s 20 wins in the last two years was their star quarterback. DeQuan Finn wowed Rockets fans with his ability to punish defenses through the air and on the ground. Unfortunately for Candle, his QB has transferred to Baylor since the regular season ended, leaving a gaping hole where 88 touchdowns and neary 9,000 yards once stood.
Redshirt sophomore Tucker Gleason will pick up the reins. Once of Georgia Tech, Gleason has considerable experience considering he’s been a backup at the Glass Bowl – and he can play too; more than 1,150 yards through the air and a 12:3 TD:INT ratio from just 77 passes shows he can sling it. And whilst he’s not as dynamic as Finn on the ground, he can move the chains with his legs. Toledo are in as good a shape as you could hope for under center, considering the circumstances.
Where Toledo have promise, Wyoming have veteran leadership. A Mountain West stalwart, Andrew Peasley transferred to the Cowboys from Utah State before 2022, to find playing time after sitting behind Logan Bonner. A change of scenery did the trick, with Peasley starting 23 games in Laramie the last two seasons. 2023 saw an improvement in ball placement and security, doubling his touchdowns and halving his interceptions from the previous year.
Another quarterback who is a dual threat, Peasley also has 1,250 yards and 12 TD’s on the ground in his career. The quarterback battle between these two teams looks finely poised.
Prospects To Watch
It’s not often you get a player from the MAC looking to gatecrash the first round of the NFL Draft. But in cornerback Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo have had a STUD in their secondary for the past four years. Despite having eligibility remaining, Saturday looks like Mitchell’s last game in a Rockets uniform. He put the draft world on notice in 2022, with five pics and two touchdowns as Toledo won the conference. Teams shied away from him this year, but Mitchell still recorded 18 pass breakups. Physical at the catch point and a ruthless tackler, MItchell might not wow in speed testing, but he can flat out play.
After sending both Logan Wilson and Chad Muma to the pro’s in recent seasons, Wyoming is fast becoming ‘LBU’. That might continue in 2024, with redshirt junior Easton Gibbs the latest off the Laramie Linebacker production line. After 44 games in the brown and yellow, and 358 tackles to his name, Gibbs has picked up where his predecessors left off – totally dominating at the second level. A running back’s nightmare, Gibbs has excellent backfield vision and is adept at meeting them coming through the line of scrimmage. Both Muma and Wilson stayed for their senior year at Wyoming – Gibbs may yet opt to do the same. If not, the NFL better watch out.
Jason Candle is an excellent coach, and I have zero reason to believe he won’t have Gleason ready to ball on Saturday. Outside of Finn, neither program seems to have lost a lot of talent to the portal, and potential draft prospects have yet to declare, making this contest one that could bring a level of quality often unseen in bowl games of this stature.
All that being said, I expect Wyoming to play hard for their outgoing head coach, who has set a Cowboys standard they were previously unfamiliar with. Give me Craig Bohl to go out in a blaze of glory, the Rockets to fall flat after their recent MAC heartbreak.
Toledo 21-34 Wyoming
PREVIOUSLY THE FOUNDER OF NFL DRAFT UK, SIMON HAS BEEN COVERING COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND THE NFL DRAFT SINCE 2009. BASED IN MANCHESTER, SIMON IS ALSO CO-CREATOR & WEEKLY GUEST OF THE COLLAPSING POCKET PODCAST.