2009 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl Preview
Nevada (8-4, 7-1; WAC) vs. Southern Methodist (7-5, 6-2; Conference USA)
December 24th, 2009 @ 8:00 PM (EST) – ESPN – Honolulu, Hawai’i
The Hawai’ian Islands have a long bowl tradition, beginning all the way back in 1936 with the forgotten Poi Bowl, continuing in the 80s and 90s with the well-known Aloha Bowl and culminating with the present-day Hawai’i Bowl. This will be the 8th playing of the game and only the second doesn’t include the home island Hawai’i Warriors.
Southern Methodist ‘s appearance is probably the most intriguing bowl berth that any team claims this entire postseason. SMU is playing in their first bowl game since 1984 as their program was shelved for a year after the NCAA’s ‘Death Penalty’ was instituted in the late 80s after the school was found guilty of widespread cheating and they have needed a quarter of a century to recover. Adding to the drama is the return of former Hawai’i head coach June Jones, now in his 2nd year in charge of the Mustangs. Jones left the Warriors after leading them to the BCS in 2007 over a dispute with the university’s commitment to football and could be as reviled during this game as he was once beloved during his record-breaking run. Jones’ career mark at Hawai’i was 75-41 and his career record is 4-2 in bowl games.
Jones’ offenses are best known for a plethora of passing, so SMU’s 28 th rank through the air was certainly not surprising. With a relatively low finish of 54th in scoring at 27.9 points per game, Jones doesn’t have his team scoring at nearly the clip that fans were accustomed to at Hawai’i. With a virtually non-existent rushing game at 100 th nationally, the Mustangs’ only hope for victory is to pass the ball nearly every play. Their 26 turnovers is a direct byproduct of that philosophy and that ranks them in them in the bottom quarter of the nation. Despite their proclivity for mistakes, this can still be a strong offense.
SMU needs to hope that their passing game produces in the Hawai’i Bowl because their defense is extremely porous, allowing 29.1 points per game, earning a lowly 90th national rank. The Mustangs stunk against the run, finishing 89th, while performing equally poorly against the pass with an 82nd rating. In short, the only positive that can be said about their defense is that they’re adept at forcing turnovers after finishing 17 th in the country with 27.
Nevada had a very successful season. While they struggled in their first three games to get their offense going, they followed that poor start by winning eight games in a row. That set up a winner-take-all bout at Boise State for the WAC Championship and the Wolfpack fell short in a 44-33 shootout. Head Coach Chris Ault is one of the most accomplished coaches in college football and this game will cap off the College Hall of Famer’s 25th season at the helm. Ault oversaw the transition from D-1AA football and his career record of 200-94-1 includes a 60-38 record at the D-1A level. He is only one of six active coaches that can boast 200 wins on their resume! The only blemish on his record is a lowly 1-5 bowl record, though his only win did come in the 2005 Hawai’i Bowl.
The Wolfpack were by far the most prolific ground attack in college football this season, leading the country in yards per carry (7.59), rushing touchdowns (48), total rushing yards (4347) and rushing yards per game (362)! This amazing ability on the ground produced the country’s 5th highest scoring offense at 40.6 points per game and three different players ran for over 1,000 yards! While their pass offense didn’t account for a lot of yardage (107 th nationally), quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still a dangerous passer as he threw for 19 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions. Kaepernick is perhaps the best dual-threat quarterback in America as he led the country in rushing at his position and he is the triggerman for one of the truly elite offenses in college football.
It is a good thing that Nevada is so prolific offensively, because their defense was pretty bad all year. They finished 74th in scoring at 27.2 points per game and that was largely the byproduct of extremely poor pass defense (2nd worst nationally) as their rushing defense managed a respectable finish at 26th in the country. The one major redeemer for their defense is that their 29 sacks was the 33rd highest total in college football.
This game has one clear major mismatch: Nevada’s #1 ranked running game against SMU’s 89th ranked run defense. While the Wolfpack is pretty bad against the pass, SMU is nowhere near as prolific throwing as Nevada is passing and that seems to lean pretty heavily towards Chris Ault’s team. There is also the experience factor: No Mustang has ever played in a bowl game while this is the 5th consecutive postseason berth for the Pack. After ending such a long bowl drought, you have to wonder if SMU’s players are going to just be happy to be there.
Expect Nevada’s triumvirate of 1,000 yard rushers to be the dominant storyline in this game. SMU will be excited to play in their first bowl game and will want to play well for their coach in his homecoming to the Islands but they are simply at a major disadvantage in this matchup. Look for Kaepernick to make a ton of big plays and put a ton of points on the board. While SMU will surely score plenty of points on their own thanks to Nevada’s weak defending, they won’t have a chance at keeping up with Nevada and the Wolfpack will win the Hawai’i Bowl in a game full of fireworks.
Hawaii Bowl Pick: Nevada 45, SMU 27
By Matt Baxendell
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