Per usual, the lone Game on Christmas Eve is the Hawaii Bowl. Unfortunately for fans, this one probably won’t have as many points as recent Games. Fortunately, it should be a close one and that’s seen in the spread. Houston was an early -2.5 point favorite over Fresno State as seen at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
It always seems like one of the teams in this Game is too happy to be in Hawaii and doesn’t show up. The deficit has been by at least 15 points in the last five Hawaii Bowls and in eight of the last nine. So this is a question of which coach to back in Major Applewhite against Jeff Tedford. Either that, or back the team with a better defense and hope that’s enough.
Fresno State has the best defense in this Game and despite losing big to Alabama and Washington earlier in the season, still only allows 17.2 points per Game. This group has locked down every MWC opponent and maybe more importantly already won a Game in Hawaii. OUtside of the loss to UNLV, it’s been an incredible bounce back season after just one win in 2016.
The same can’t be said for Houston, which lost its head coach between bowls last season. In the process, the Cougars lost 34-10 to San Diego State in their bowl Game with Tom Herman gone. And unlike Fresno, this team has been inconsistent for most of the season, from losses to Tulane and Tulsa, to winning at USF and against Navy in the finale. They’ve shown potential to be one of the better teams in the AAC, but losses to teams in the bottom of the standings stopped that.
Fresno State’s rush defense may be the biggest thing in this Game because Houston’s quarterback situation is iffy. Quarterback D’Eriq King has potential and can be electric due to his legs, but he hasn’t faced a good defense since being tabbed starter in the final three Games. He’s at 10.32 yards per attempt, but again, it’s hard to take that at face value due to the teams he’s played. Still, with wide outs Steven DuNBAr (873 yards) and Linell Bonner (850 yards), all he has to do is throw it deep. If King doesn’t have success through the air, he’ll have to rely on his legs, which isn’t a terrible thing. The problem is that running backs Duke Catalon and Mulbah Car haven’t gotten anything going with King at quarterback. It’s also worth noting that in King’s only true road start, the team scored just 17 points against a Tulane defense that allows 30 per Game.
The Bulldogs have limited just about every opponent and that includes a 27-3 win at SDSU in the middle of the season. This defense has held teams to 3.5 yards per carry and only 200 passing yards per Game.
But if King gets loose, Fresno’s offense will have to do something at some point in this Game. Even against bad defenses, this offense hasn’t shown much. It also doesn’t help that Houston is allowing just 3.8 yards per carry. Houston’s weak spot is against the pass, but it’s hard to see FSU QB Marcus McMaryion opening this Game up with his arm. He’s passed for more than 226 yards just once in his last seven Games. They want to run the ball between Josh Hokit and Jordan Mims and when that doesn’t work, they usually don’t surpass 20 points.
This Game could come down to how McMaryion looks against this pass defense and if he doesn’t step up, Houston will be in the driver’s seat. The Cougars are 2-5 ATS in their last seven against the MWC and haven’t covered in their last six on field turf. The Bulldogs are 11-1 ATS vs. a team with a winning record, but haven’t covered in their last six bowl Games (before Tedford).
Our Pick – Fresno St +2