Unknown Stars Meets In Lightly Regarded Bowl
LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Alex Van Dyke and Wasean Tait may be the two best college football players no one has ever heard of. It seems only fitting they meet Thursday in a bowl game few people have ever paid any attention to.
Van Dyke and Tait, both coming off seasons with Heisman-like numbers, lead their respective teams as the major college bowl season kicks off with Nevada meeting No. 25 Toledo in the Las Vegas Bowl.
``A lot of guys have asked me what I’ve thought about not getting Heisman attention,″ said Tait, the Toledo junior who rushed for 1,905 yards this year. ``But if you’ve never seen me play, how can you vote for me? We don’t get the same exposure as Big 10 schools, and we’re overshadowed.″
Tait and Van Dyke, Nevada’s record-breaking receiver, are a pair of overachievers on teams that have been largely overlooked this year despite some impressive statistics.
Nevada (9-2) leads the country in passing offense and total offense, while Toledo (10-0-1) is one of only three unbeaten Division I football teams.
``We never get a chance to play on national TV,″ Tait said. ``This will show everybody else in the country what they’ve been missing.″
Toledo gets a chance to beat Nevada for the second time this year in the fourth annual bowl, which pits the winners of the Big West and Mid-American conferences. The game is a rematch of a September contest in Reno, which Nevada turned the ball over six times in a 49-35 loss.
``In football you don’t usually get two chances,″ said Nevada coach Chris Ault. ``It’s a great advantage, or more accurately, a great opportunity, for us.″
The game, which will be televised by ESPN (9 p.m. EST), has never drawn well and figures to once again fill only half the 32,000-seat Sam Boyd Stadium despite the presence of a Nevada team.
Despite the lack of fan interest, this year’s matchup may be the best in the brief history of the bowl, with oddsmakers calling it a tossup. It figures to be a high-scoring game.
``Their offense is just unbelievable,″ said Toledo linebacker Craig Dues. ``We saw that in the first game.″
In that game, Van Dyke, who set an NCAA record with 1,854 yards receiving this season, caught 18 passes from Mike Maxwell. But Nevada couldn’t overcome its six turnovers, three of which led directly to touchdowns.
``I think he’s one of the two best receivers in the country,″ Ault said of Van Dyke.
The game features two teams with contrasting offensive styles, with Nevada willing to throw on almost every down and Toledo ranking fifth in the country in rushing with 244.5 yards per game.
It’s the kind of game that could come down to which team is able to hang onto the ball, a department Toledo shines in. The Rockets led the nation in turnover margin, while Nevada was minus-21.
``We are a high-risk offense,″ Ault said. ``When you throw the ball like we do there may be some turnovers.″
If Toledo can win, it would be assured of ending the season with a top-25 ranking. The last time was 1971, when the Rockets wound up 14th by virtue of a 12-0 season that included a Tangerine Bowl victory.
``A lot of people see us ranked and might want to take a look at our team in this game,″ said Toledo coach Gary Pinkel. ``I think that might be a motivational factor for our players.″