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The game has undergone several name changes and has been played at different venues, but the Cactus Bowl remains one of the highest rated games in the western United States. The game has been played in the state of Arizona since 1989, originally as the Copper Bowl at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.
The 2017 Cactus Bowl will take place on Wednesday, December 26, 2017 at Chase Field in Phoenix. ESPN will have all the action starting at 10:15 p.m. ET.
Cactus Bowl Odds at BookMaker.eu
Kansas State Wildcats -2
UCLA Bruins +2
Offense will be the key in this showdown with the quarterbacks taking center stage.
Josh Rosen is the obvious key for the Bruins. He’s led UCLA to the fifth best passing offense in the nation that’s also led to a top-20 total offense and No. 31 ranked scoring offense. Rosen is good and he’s got plenty of targets to lean on, too.
The more interesting story may be true freshman Skylar Thompson of the Wildcats. Kansas State doesn’t grade out very well in passing yards this season and the total offense doesn’t look good based on the numbers. Nevertheless, Thompson has been the main difference between the team that started 3-4 and finished 4-1 to become bowl eligible.
When he’s been on the gridiron, Thompson has been strong with a completion percentage or 63.2 and the ability to find the open man. He’s also a threat to run himself.
While Thompson could pose some challenges for the UCLA defense which is the main reason the team finished 6-6, barely eeking out a bowl bid. The defense allowed 36.8 PPG and 488.8 total yards per game. Those numbers are ridiculously bad. That will likely lead us to a fun, high-scoring Cactus Bowl.
While the Kansas State offense should have a field day against the Bruin defense, the Wildcats don’t match up particularly well defensive against the UCLA offense either.
The Bruins are an elite passing offense, but rank poorly on the ground. Interestingly, the Wildcats defend the rushing attack well with a strong front line, but are dismal in the secondary, allowing 310.2 passing yard per game.
Rosen should be able to take advantage of the secondary shortcomings for Kansas State. In what is likely his final game as a Bruin, Rosen could—and should—go out with a monster performance. The QB has already thrown for 3,717 yards and could top 4,000 with a monster performance.
Cactus Bowl Format
The Cactus Bowl is schedule to pit teams from the Big XII and Pac-12 against each other. It isn't out of the ordinary, though, for at least one of these conferences to not reach the allotment of teams. In 2016, Boise State played in the Cactus Bowl in place of a Pac-12 team. Though the Big Ten used to have a tie-in to the Cactus Bowl, this bowl organizers would much rather have smaller schools from the Mountain West than the middling teams from the Big Ten, ACC or SEC.
Cactus Bowl Game Results
For the first 10 years the game was played on the campus of the University of Arizona. In 2000, organizers moved the game to Bank One Ballpark in downtown Phoenix. Finally, in 2006, the game moved to Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe to replace the Fiesta Bowl, which had moved to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
The inaugural Copper Bowl was played on December 31, 1989 with the hometown Arizona Wildcats defeating North Carolina 17-14 in the second-lowest scoring game in the bowl’s history. The game was played under its original name from 1989 until 1996 when Arizona technology company Insight Enterprises became the title sponsor. Insight kept the naming rights until 2012, after which restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings bought them. Buffalo Wild Wings declined to renew its sponsorship following the 2013 game.
Instead of reverting back to its original Copper Bowl name, organizers rebranded the bowl the Cactus Bowl in 2014. The name previously belonged to a Division II postseason all-star game that played from 2001 until 2011, and was the name originally planned for the bowl game when first conceived. Motel 6 has been the title sponsor since 2015.
Through 2005 the game featured teams mostly from the Western Athletic Conference, Pac-10 and Big 12. A matchup of teams from the Big 12 and Big Ten began in 2006 and continued through the 2013 season. An agreement between the Pac-12 and Big 12 took shape for the 2014 season, based on bowl eligibility. Texas Tech staged the biggest comeback in a bowl game in 2006, rallying from a 38-7 second-half deficit to defeat Minnesota in overtime. The record has since been tied.
Most All-Time Wins at Cactus Bowl
Kansas State and Minnesota are the only two teams to have played in the Cactus Bowl three times. That said, the Golden Gophers haven't won the game in their history, and they're one of three teams to have lost this game multiple times. Both Utah and Wyoming have been defeated in the Cactus Bowl twice.
A total of six teams have won the Cactus Bowl twice, four of which are from the Big XII and two of which come out of the Pac-12.
Teams very rarely play in the Cactus Bowl in consecutive years. The only team to play in this game in consecutive years was Minnesota, which was beaten in the 2008 and 2009 games then known as the Insight Bowl.
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