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Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl preview

Another game in the NCAA Bowl series previewed by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl

Monday December 24th, 13:00 HAST (01:00 GMT)

Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawai'i

Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Southern Methodist University Mustangs


The Hawai'i Bowl has been played annually at Aloha Stadium, home of the NFL Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii since 2002. Typically played on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the game matches teams from either Conference USA or the Pac-12 vs. a team from the WAC member schools. This is a special bowl as it also carries guaranteed participation for one school. The so called "Hawai'i guarantee" allows the University of Hawai'i to participate in the Hawai'i Bowl, regardless of its standings in the WAC, provided it retains bowl eligibility and doesn't qualify for the BCS (highly unlikely at the moment as they're miserably bad) If Hawai'i is not eligible then another WAC member is chosen. However, since Hawai'i is leaving the WAC for the Mountain West Conference in football from next season as the WAC discontinued sponsoring football due to its dwindling number of members. The automatic Hawai'i Bowl bid will transfer with Hawai'i to the MWC.

Fresno State finished 9-3 and 7-1 in the MWC finishing in a three way tie for the conference title with (19)Boise State and San Diego State. They scored a mammoth 40.3 points per game, but given that their schedule included such trash as Colorado, New Mexico and Hawai'i itself that points average is hardly surprising. Fresno State have adjusted well to their first season in the Mountain West under new coach Tim DeRuyter.

After going 4-9 in their final season in the WAC last year, the Bulldogs gave coach Pat Hill the bullet with DeRuyter stepping in as they went in search of some proper opposition to play against in the MWC. The Bulldogs have been dominant in their last five games since a 20-10 loss on the Smurf Turf to (19)Boise State on Oct. 13, posting an impressive average victory margin of 25.8 points and scoring at least 42 points in each victory. Junior quarterback Derek Carr has been impressive this season; and good news for Bulldogs' fans as he's committed to return to the team next season. The Mountain West offensive player of the year has completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 3,742 yards (8th in the nation) with 36 touchdowns (4th nationally) and just five interceptions. The Bulldogs have done plenty right on offense, ranking 14th in the FBS with 488.5 yards per game and senior running back Robbie Rouse has become the Bulldogs' all-time leading rusher after a third straight 1,000-yard season, this year he's pitched in with 1468 yards and 12 TDs on the ground and 406 yards and 2 TDs in the air. Unquestionably Carr's favorite target has been Davante Adams; he's found the freshman for 1168 yards and 13 TDs, with 552 yards and 6 TDs coming in the last 4 games of the season.

The Fresno State defense has been pretty solid, they are 4th in the nation against the pass, giving up just 163 yards per game and they've limited their opponents to an average 22.3 points this season.

The Mustangs posted a 6-6 record this season and should be ecstatic to make their fourth consecutive bowl appearance. SMU became bowl eligible after winning their last game 35-27 against Conference USA champions Tulsa. Coach June Jones spent nine seasons with Hawaii before joining SMU in 2008. The Mustangs will make their third postseason appearance in Honolulu returning to the scene of their dismantling of Nevada 45-10 in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl, their first bowl game in 25 years and first since the infamous Death Penalty . SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert played in the 2010 BCS national title game. He was a freshman coming off the bench in the first quarter for an injured Colt McCoy, finishing with two TDs and four INTs in a 37-21 loss to Alabama. Gilbert completed for 2,720 yards and 14 TDs, but he hasn't been picked off in the last five games. They will need to avoid Bulldogs safety Phillip Thomas who led the nation with eight interceptions. Gilbert is a danger on his feet however as he has scored 7 rushing TDs this year created an impressive combination with senior tailback Zach Line who himself moved to within one TD of Eric Dickerson's SMU career record of 47. This might not be the only record of Dickerson's to fall this season, but that's another story. Line is the fourth player in Conference USA history with three straight 1,000-yard seasons after rushing for 1,207 this year giving him 4114, only 336 short of Dickerson's school record. The Bulldogs are ranked 75th against the run 171.9 yards per game, but they're ranked in the top 20 nationally in sacks (35) and turnovers gained (33). Ball control and time of possession are key to giving the Mustangs any chance in this one.

FOR FRESNO STATE TO WIN

Make the most of every possession. They have an explosive and very well balanced offense, which is much better than the Mustang defense. Every time they take the field, they are capable of putting points on the board and they need to keep that score ticking over to kill off SMU where the NCAA couldn't. We should see plenty of play-action and if the running game is on form, they might not even need to pass much in this one. The question in this one is how much Fresno State will want to pour the points on as this is a big spread.

FOR SMU TO WIN

Win the battle in the trenches and make plenty of holes for Zach Line to burst through, they need to pull a relatively poor run defense and pick up first downs consistently. Gilbert has to be careful with the ball as he's given up 13 picks and Fresno have some ball hawks in the secondary, picking off the opposition quarterback 20 times on the season. The running game has to be effective to give their defense a chance, as they need to eat up the clock and keep the deadly Fresno State offense on the sidelines. For SMU's sake, I hope they fare better than their last meeting with the Bulldogs when they were butchered 42-0.

VERDICT

Should be a mismatch, Fresno State are a much better football team than SMU. The Mustangs are only in the game due to Conference USA's ridiculous number of bowl slots, they couldn't even have the decency to arrive with a winning record and despite their win against Tulsa, they've been spanked by Bowl teams in 5 of their six losses. They're out of their depth in this one and if Fresno State can stop Zach Line, their offense will wipe the floor with the ridiculously poor SMU defense which gives up over 400 yards per game. This one could get ugly quickly and I'm not just talking about the tourist bait shirts available locally.

ADVICE

Fresno State -11.5

Over 58.5

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