Marek Warszawski of the Fresno Bee writes that the Fresno State Bulldogs suffer from a “Hawaii Bowl Hex.”
Warszawski “Leis”‘s it down like this: the Bulldogs were creamed by Rice 30-6 at the Hawaii Bowl in 2014 – maybe the worst beat-down Rice University has given a quality opponent in a decade. 2 years before that, they were blown out by SMU in the same postseason event. Heck, Fresno State even lost the Aloha Bowl back in 1993.
Surely, that can’t be why Houston is favored to beat them on Christmas Eve. Yet there are seniors on the Bulldog roster who can remember losing in Hawaii…and it won’t be easy to change that trend on Sunday night.
More likely, the 7-4 Cougars are (slight) favorites thanks to their conference. Fresno State won 9 games and played Boise State for the Mountain West title, but Houston plays in the American Athletic…which goes by the clever motto “Power-6.” Then again, Boise State’s dominant win over Oregon last weekend showed once again that MWC teams can play with anyone in the FBS.
Who: Fresno State Bulldogs vs Houston Cougars
When: Sunday, December 23rd, 8:30 PM EST
Where: Aloha Stadium, Halawa, HI
Lines: Fresno (+2) vs Houston (-2) / O/U Total: (49)
The O/U total opened at (46) and quickly moved up by a field goal, as bettors expect the offenses to impress.
The AAC is a point-scoring league, and Houston put up yards and touchdowns a’plenty against teams like South Florida and Memphis. Fresno State is the more defense-minded of the 2 programs, having given up only 41 points over the last 3 games…and 2 of those were against Boise State. Junior Marcus McMaryion is exactly the type of cautious signal-caller that a defense-oriented Bulldogs need, having thrown only 4 interceptions in all of ’17.
It helps to think of this game in terms of tempo – the Cougars will try to pass for big yardage, and the Bulldogs will try to run and control the egg. Dual-threat sophomore QB D’Eriq King has been extremely accurate and quick to take advantage of over-pursuing defensive ends in the run game. But his Red Zone performance leaves something to be desired, and a recent loss to Tulane was an exercise in frustration.
Each team is reasonably healthy. Look for sophomore rusher Mulbah Car to play a larger role in the Houston offense, as a strong Fresno State pass rush must be kept at bay for King to pass with success.
We’re liking the Mountain West team to break the “Hawaii Hex” and win SU or (even slightly more-likely) against the spread. The Cougar offense just hasn’t been consistent enough to give them the nod, and Fresno’s front-7 should be able to pressure the pocket even without injured DE Nathan Madsen.
Take the Bulldogs to prevail on Christmas Eve.