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Adam Fondren, KSL, File

The sports fan's guide to the 2017 Christmas weekend

By Sean Walker,  |  Posted Dec 23rd, 2017 @ 11:09am


SALT LAKE CITY — The holidays can be rough for anyone who is alone, or who wants to be alone based on the reactions of their in-laws.

But for sports fans, the solace can be inviting.

Here are some of the biggest moments on the sports calendar this holiday weekend.

NBA Christmas

Christmas Day belongs to the NBA, with five games spread out evenly between 10 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. MST, including back-to-back-to-back games on ABC that start at 1 p.m. with a Cleveland vs. Golden State matchup.

The night ends with rookie standout Kyle Kuzma and the LA Lakers hosting Minnesota on TNT. The former Utah star leads the team with 17.4 points per game, and he’s also averaging 6.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists next to fellow rookie Lonzo Ball (7.0 apg).

Of course, the NBA’s holiday weekend starts plenty early for Utah fans, when the Jazz host Oklahoma City on Saturday night.

Utah (15-18) is currently ninth in the loaded Western Conference, hanging around the edge of the playoff picture at the early date, just one game behind New Orleans (15-16) for the final postseason spot.

One game ahead of them are three teams, including the Thunder. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at Vivint Arena.

It’s still bowl season

The college football bowl season started Dec. 16 with Boise State’s 38-28 win over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl, and it officially runs until the CFB Playoff championship Monday, Jan. 8.

Though the bowl season takes a 24-hour siesta on Christmas Day, there are a few matchups bookending Monday to take note of.

Dollar General Bowl, 5 p.m. MST Saturday, ESPN

Get it started Saturday evening, when Logan Woodside and the high-powered Toledo offense faces Appalachian State in the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

The Rockets (11-2) were the top team in the Mid-American Conference in 2017, and scored 25 points or more 10 times, including a 45-28 win over Akron in the MAC championship. Woodside, considered one of the top passing quarterbacks in the country, was a 64.9 percent passer who threw for 3,758 yards and 28 touchdowns with just five interceptions.

Hawaii Bowl, 6:30 p.m. MST Sunday, ESPN

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas Eve in Honolulu? We sure would.

Mountain West runner-up Fresno State and American Athletic runner-up Houston get to do just that in a fun game that tends toward a morning kickoff in Hawaii to account for prime time on the mainland.

Houston’s offense has put up points, with two quarterbacks (Kyle Postman and D’Eriq King) finishing the season with about 1,000 yards passing. Cougar offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, who played quarterback at Utah, will be reunited with his old coach, Dan Mullen, at Florida beginning next season.

The Bulldogs’ turnaround in the first season under Jeff Tedford has been impressive, too. The former Cal coach took a Fresno State team that won just one game in 2016 and led them to the Mountain West championship game.

Led by quarterback Marcus McMaryion’s 2,384 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season, Fresno State downed then-No. 23 Boise State 28-17 in the regular-season meeting between the schools. But the Broncos took the league’s automatic bid to the Las Vegas Bowl with a 17-14 win a week later.

A trip to Hawaii isn’t a bad consolation prize.

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, 11:30 a.m. MST Tuesday, ESPN

With apologies to the Quick Lane Bowl and the Cactus Bowl, there’s nothing wrong with wrapping up the bowl weekend with a local team.

The Utes (6-6) have been one of the best postseason teams under head coach Kyle Whittingham, and they’ll try to extend their 10-1 postseason record Tuesday morning in the Cotton Bowl against West Virginia.

Dana Holgorsen is no slouch of a coach himself, leading the Mountaineers to a 7-5 record that included being one of four teams tied at 5-4 in Big 12 play. West Virginia is led by quarterback Will Grier, but the junior who passed for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns won’t play in Dallas; he’s sidelined with a finger injury on his throwing hand.

His backup Chris Chugunov is a 54.8 percent passer, and he’ll have the luxury of wide receivers Gary Jennings and David Sills V, who have combined for 2,010 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Cactus Bowl, 7 p.m. MST Tuesday, ESPN

The nightcap to the extended holiday weekend is Kansas State and UCLA in a game that has been renamed, relocated and replayed several times over its lengthy history.

This year’s former Insight Bowl or Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl will be played at Chase Field in Phoenix, and features the likely final game of prolific passer Josh Rosen’s career with the Bruins.

Rosen hasn’t announced if he will return to Westwood for his senior year, but he has until Jan. 15 to declare for next April’s NFL draft. He’s expected to be one of the first quarterbacks chosen, if he does go.

The junior quarterback completed 62.6 percent of his passes in 2017 for 3,756 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in leading UCLA to a 6-6 record with a pair of wins in the team’s final three games. He’s thrown for 9,341 yards in three seasons with 59 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.

NFL Week 16

As the NFL winds down the regular season, teams are jockeying for playoff positions and division titles.

The emotion starts Saturday when Minnesota travels to Lambeau Field at Green Bay for a 6:30 p.m. MST kickoff on NBC.

The Vikings (11-3) have clinched the NFC North division title, while the Packers (7-7) are just one game behind Detroit for second place and need a hunt to stay in contention for a wildcard bid.

In Sunday’s full slate, keep an eye on New Orleans and Atlanta. The Saints (10-4) are locked in a race with Carolina (10-4) for the NFC South title, and have the Falcons and Tampa Bay remaining on the schedule.

Plus, it’s another chance to see newly unearthed Saints special teams ace (and former BYU quarterback) Taysom Hill.

Christmas Day features a doubleheader, starting at 2:30 p.m. MST with Pittsburgh and Houston on NBC. The Steelers have clinched the AFC North and will try to pull away from the Patriots for home-field advantage through the playoffs.

Oakland and Philadelphia cap off the night at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Sean Walker,
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