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Navy and Utah kickoff the 2007-08 bowl season from San Diego in the Poinsettia Bowl


Navy and Utah kickoff the 2007-08 bowl season from San Diego in the Poinsettia Bowl. Both teams are playing in bowl games for the fifth consecutive season, and Navy is making it second appearance in this bowl series. The Utes are a 7-1/2 point favorite, and the total is set at 64-1/2. Kickoff time is 9:00 PM ET on ESPN.

The teams boast identical won-lost records, but Utah, who was 7-5 ATS as compared to 4-7 for the Midshipmen, is a 9-point favorite. The Utes have been one of the best bowl teams around, winning six straight outright, and five in a row ATS. They were also 7-1 SU & 6-2 ATS down the stretch this season. Navy has also been a good bowl team, going 4-1 ATS in its L5. It ground attack was again #1 in the country, but its defense figures to have its hands full after yielding 36.5 PPG in '07.

Since quarterback Brian Johnson has returned from a shoulder injury he suffered in the season opening loss to Oregon State, Utah is 7-1—with its only "L" being a 17-10 loss to BYU in the regular season finale. Johnson, who has completed 65.2% of his passes on the season, makes the Utes' offense much more balanced, as defenses have to worry about Johnson's arm and feet as well as the running of tailback Darrell Mack (102.5 yards per game). Let's face it, when most folks play word association, the terms "Mountain West" and "stingy defense" don't often go together. However, Utah's defense is a rare exception to that rule. The Utes are a formidable bunch as evidenced by the fact that they finished third in the nation in scoring defense (15.6 ppg) and 15th in the nation in total defense (319.4 yards per game allowed). The ringleaders of Utah's stingy defense are senior left defensive end Martail Burnett and senior strong safety Steve Tate, both first-team All-Mountain West performers. If that weren't enough to concern the Midshipmen, Utah's punter/placekicker Louie Sakoda is a 2007 All-American, averaging 44.8 yards per punt and 1.58 made field goals per game.

Ken Niumatalolo, who is believed to be the NCAA's first Polynesian head coach, replaces Paul Johnson, who left Navy earlier this month to take over for Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech. He has a tough act to follow. The Midshipmen went 45-29 in six seasons under Johnson, including 43-19 over the last five years. Don't expect Niumatalolo, who played a major role in installing the
triple option attack that enabled Navy to set the school's single-season scoring record this year, to mess with Navy's successful run-first formula. The Midshipmen have lead the nation in rushing in four of the last five years, including each of the past three seasons. Navy is averaging a school-record 351.5 yards rushing per game this year. Its two most dangerous weapons are option quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (782 rushing yards, 11 rushing TDs; 830 passing
yards, six TD passes) and jack-of-all-trades Reggie Campbell (1,815 all-purpose yards this season). Navy's maligned defense is led by freshman safety Wyatt Middleton (team-best 85 tackles) and senior linebacker Irv Spencer (82 tackles, 7 pass breakups). Navy's sure tackling duo figures to be kept busy trying to slow down Utah quarterback Brian Johnson and the Utes' underrated tailback Darrell Mack.

While Navy will pile up way more frequent-flier miles than Utah, the Middies figure to have lots of fan support in San Diego, home to a large U.S. naval base. Navy ended the regular season with
straight wins and has averaged 48.2 ppg in those four victories over Notre Dame, North Texas, Northern Illinois and Army. None of those recent foes is as talented as Utah. When the Utes have the football, they'll have a substantial size advantage as its offensive line, spearheaded by junior
right guard Robert Conley (6-1, 316) and sophomore left tackle Zane Beadles (6-4, 312), averages 310 pounds, while Navy's defensive front averages just 261 pounds and could wear down in the second half of this game. Utah's collection of Grade-A beef should allow quarterback Brian Johnson plenty of time in ticket and tailback Darrell Mack plenty of holes to run through. The main matchup to watch is Utah's stout defense against Navy's proven ground attack. However, the Utes have the benefit of having played Air Force, which runs a similar triple-option offense to Navy, earlier this season. The other thing to keep your eyes on is whether Utah's
All-American punter/kicker Louie Sakoda can neutralize Navy's dangerous return specialist Reggie Campbell.

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