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No matter what happens in this game, at least each player can say they've been to Hawaii. That may be what the Southern Methodist players are saying after this one as they are listed as roughly 12-point underdogs in most places, Including top rated 5 dimes sportsbook.
The Mustangs barely got to a bowl game with their 6-6 record while Fresno State played in a better conference, yet finished at 9-3. On the road, SMU has some ugly losses against Tulane (2-10) and getting blown out by Rice (6-6). At home, things were a little different, though. In their final must-win game of the season, they beat C-USA Champion Tulsa. However, Tulsa didn't really need a win in that game, so it's a wonder how much they invested into it. Still, it's important to note Fresno State lost at Tulsa earlier in the season 27-26. SMU had six losses, but they also had out of conference games against Baylor, Texas A&M and TCU. You can't really blame them for losing those games.
The Bulldogs only lost one MWC game and that was at Boise State where almost no one wins. Another loss was the previously mentioned one-point loss at Tulsa and also a 17-point loss at Oregon. When you think about it, giving up only 42 points to the Ducks is really good and was the second fewest points they scored all season. Fresno State comes into this game on a five-game win streak while SMU are just 1-4 away from home this year. Hawaii is a long way from Dallas (where the Mustangs play).
SMU doesn't do anything fantastic. They score under 30 points per game and allow under 30 points per game. Their most impressive game on the year might be their destroying of Houston, 72-42. Houston wasn't very good this year, but those 72 points still merits something. Garrett Gilbert has been their starting quarterback all season. He completes just 53% of his passes and has 14 TDs compared to 13 INTs. He only has three passing touchdowns in his last five games, but has seven rushing TDs in that same period. He had zero rushing TDs in his previous seven games. The running game is what keeps the Mustangs going. Their running back, Zach Line was named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. Line ran for over 1,200 yards and double-digit TDs for the third straight season. While he doesn't have 100 yards in four straight games, he has six TDs during that span, most importantly getting three in the win against Tulsa.
Fresno State's squad is a little more potent on both sides of the field. They score 40 points per game and have a stout defense, allowing just 22.3 points per game. Again, the most they allowed this year was just 42 points against a school that averages 50 points per game.
Offensively, the Bulldogs could be a huge problem for SMU. First off, they've scored at least 42 points in five straight games. At QB, nothing has fazed Derek Carr. On the season, he has 3,742 yards, a 68.1% completion percentage, 36 touchdowns and only five interceptions. That is a very dominant season. He and freshman wide receiver, Davante Adams, will be one of SMU's top priorities to stop. Adams leads the Bulldogs with 89 grabs, 1,168 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has a TD in seven straight games. While the passing game will be hard to stop in itself, senior running back Robbie Rouse is also having a great year. Rouse has 1,874 total yards and 14 total TDs on the season. His 58 receptions are second most on the on Fresno State.
If Zach Line can't get anything going in the ground game for SMU, it's going to be a long day in Hawaii for the Mustangs.
Traditionally, if you used strictly yards per point numbers to handicap bowl games over the years, you'd likely have at least held your own. That would be especially true when the teams played schedules that were fairly even in strength. That is because the yard per point stat is a great barometer of a teams overall ability to move the ball and score points as well as their ability to stop other teams and keep them off the score board. When you look at this game you find ypp numbers that are nearly dead even. Both teams also rank high in turnover margin and when you look at Tulsa, a common opponent, and you see Fresno losing by 1 on the road and SMU beating them by a TD at home, it wouldn't be hard to come to the conclusion that +12 points is very hard to pass up here.
Yet, our model likes Fresno by anywhere from 16 to 20 points and you really have to appreciate how this team went toe to toe with Oregon earlier in the year. You also have to wonder how SMU is going to compete here if you take into account their blowout losses to Rice and Central Florida.
Nothing strong here, but we're going to side with the double digit dog. There are some question marks, but they are capable. SMU +12.5
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