The San Diego State Aztecs (10-3, 8-0), coming off their first outright conference title since 1986, will take on the Cincinnati Bearcats (7-5, 4-4) in the Hawai’i Bowl on Thursday, December 24. Cincinnati took a 52-23 victory as a 14 point favorite on the road on September 29, 2007 in the most recent matchup between the schools.
San Diego State won their ninth straight with a 27-24 win over Air Force in the Mountain West title game December 5 but will be minus Maxwell Smith for this one. Cincinnati alternated wins and losses in their last four; they beat East Carolina 19-16 in their regular season finale November 28. Kickoff from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii is scheduled for 8:00 pm ET and will be televised on ESPN. Cincinnati is currently a 1.5 point favorite with the over/under set at 57 points in this contest.
San Diego State has reeled off nine straight wins since starting the year 1-3 and will try for a 10th straight win here. The Aztecs outgained the Falcons 436-340 and racked up 17 first downs to Air Force’s 14. San Diego State won the time of possession battle 31:16 to 28:44 but committed the game’s only turnover. In a back and forth contest where neither team had more than a one score lead, the Aztecs took the lead for good with 5:10 to go on Donny Hageman’s 46 yard field goal.
The Aztecs are an average offensive team at best as they are 119th in passing offense (143 yards per game) and 15th in rushing offense (235.3 yards per contest); San Diego State averages 31.4 points a game while they are currently 10th in the nation in scoring defense by allowing 17.2 points per game. The quarterback play has been dismal for San Diego State; their two quarterbacks have combined to hit just 55 percent of their passes, average 7.75 yards per pass attempt for 1,859 yards with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. Maxwell Smith (110 of 200, 1529 yards, 13 TD, 2 INT) has seen the vast majority of the reps. With him out, Christian Chapman (21 of 38, 323 yards, TD, INT) will likely get the nod for his second straight start. Donnel Pumphrey leads the Aztecs with 284 carries for 1,554 yards with 16 scores while Chase Price contributes 177 carries for 940 yards and six scores on the year. Rashaad Penny contributes 58 carries for 351 yards and two scores as the third back. Pumphrey leads the team with 27 receptions for 397 yards and three touchdowns while Mikah Holder has 23 receptions for a team high 425 yards and three scores plus Eric Judge has 15 grabs for 296 yards and two scores; only three other players have recorded double digit receptions on the year. Donny Hageman has booted all 51 extra points and is 17 of 22 on field goal attempts this season with a long of 54 yards.
Cincinnati had their fair share of struggles but closed the season on a high note with a gritty road win over East Carolina. Andrew Gantz had an extra point blocked but hit two field goals, one from 50 yards and a 42 yarder as time expired to get the win for the Bearcats. Cincinnati outgained East Carolina 427-385, finished with 30 first downs to 23 for East Carolina and dominated time of possession by a 36:06 to 23:54 margin. The Bearcats did commit the lone turnover of the contest but gutted out a win.
The Bearcats are 4th in the nation in passing offense as they average 373.1 yards per game and currently 47th in the nation in rushing offense by putting up 186.3 yards per game. Cincinnati is 26th in scoring offense by putting up 36.1 points per game and currently stand tied for 88th in the nation in scoring defense as they allow 30.3 points per contest. The Bearcats have seen their reps at quarterback split pretty evenly as freshman Hayden Moore is 114 of 195 throwing the ball for 1,683 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions while running for 50 yards and two scores. Gunner Kiel has hit 206 of 316 passes for 2,777 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Tion Green is the Bearcats’ third leading rusher in the ground game with 141 carries for 697 yards and eight scores; Hosey Williams (129 carries, 727 yards, 4 TD) and Mike Boone (96 carries, 717 yards, 8 TD) doing their part in the ground game as well. Shaq Washington is the team’s leading receiver with 88 catches for 971 yards and six scores; Max Morrison (45 catches, 533 yards, 3 TD), Chris Moore (39 grabs, 823 yards, 7 TD) and Alex Chisum (34 receptions, 437 yards, TD) are other targets in the passing game as well. Andrew Gantz has booted 48 of 49 extra points and 21 of 27 field goals with a long of 51 yards with three of his six misses coming from beyond 50.
Cincinnati is 6-1 ATS in their last seven on Thursday, 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight after allowing less than 20 points, 8-2-1 ATS in their last 11 after an ATS win and 4-1 ATS in their last five on fieldturf. San Diego State is 1-4-1 ATS in their last six against teams with a winning record, 1-4 ATS in their last five neutral site games, 1-5 ATS in their last six in December and 0-7 ATS in their last seven non-conference games.
San Diego State is on a roll right now but the loss of Smith is a major blow to their chances. The Aztecs have a pair of great running backs but they will have a tough time reining in the prolific Cincinnati passing attack. The ability to move the ball through the air and strike quickly is what gives the Bearcats the slimmest of edges in this contest; give the points and take the Bearcats.