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Hawaii Bowl Preview

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While Monday Night Football in the NFL is done for the season, there is bowl action this Monday night as the annual Christmas Eve Hawaii Bowl features an intriguing match-up to wrap up the football weekend. SMU finished the season just 6-6, needing to beat Conference USA champion Tulsa to gain bowl eligibility in the finale, while Fresno State is riding a five-game winning streak for a successful first season in the Mountain West. Here is a look at this game and the history between these teams.

Match-up: Southern Methodist Mustangs vs. Fresno State Bulldogs
Venue: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii (FieldTurf)
Date: Monday, December 23, 2012
Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET – ESPN
Line: Fresno State -12½, Over/Under 59
Last Meeting: 2004, Fresno State (-27), 42-0

This is a fourth straight bowl game in the five years since June Jones took over at SMU, an impressive feat considering SMU was 1-11 in his first season. That ugly season was coming off a 1-11 record in 2007 and the Mustangs had not been to a bowl game since getting hit with major NCAA sanctions, with the last bowl appearance being a 27-20 win over Notre Dame in the 1984 Aloha Bowl. SMU was in this bowl game in 2009, winning 45-10 as a double-digit underdog over Nevada. Jones coached at Hawaii from 1999 to 2007, leading Hawaii to the Sugar Bowl after the 2007 season when he led a 12-0 regular season in his final season with the Warriors. Jones is well received on the islands for his success at the university even though he left with some resentment.

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Fresno State also has some experience playing in Hawaii as they meet the Warriors as WAC and now Mountain West foes annually. Fresno State made this trip last season, which could help the players with familiarity with the travel and stadium. The Bulldogs won a share of the Mountain West this season going 9-3 overall and 7-1 in conference play. The only losses for Fresno State came on the road against quality teams, Oregon, Tulsa, and Boise State. The Bulldogs also put together an incredible ATS season going 11-1. Fresno State went 3-3 against bowl teams this season, but most would agree that the Bulldogs lost to the best three teams on the schedule and really lack any high quality wins.

Statistically, Fresno State has far better numbers on both sides of the ball, impressively with 6.3 yards per play on offense against just 4.7 yards per play allowed on defense. SMU is also positive in that differential, but much less impressive on both sides of the ball at 5.5 yards per play on offense and 5.2 yards per play allowed on defense. Fresno State posted nearly 490 yards per game, including over 322 passing yards per game for one of the more productive offenses in the nation. On defense, Fresno State did allow significant rushing yards this season, surrendering 172 yards per game on the ground, but having to play Oregon made a big impact on those statistics.

Junior quarterback Derek Carr had a huge season for the Bulldogs and could certainly be growing as a NFL prospect. His brother, David was the #1 pick in the 2002 draft after playing for the Bulldogs and while he never became the star many expected, he has had a job in the league for a decade, currently the back-up for the New York Giants. Derek’s numbers this season are impressive with 36 touchdown passes against five interceptions, while completing almost 68 percent of his passes for over 3,700 yards. David threw for over 4,800 yards in his senior season but Derek’s numbers best what David did as a junior in just about every possible way.

Fresno State is certainly a pass-first team, averaging over 40 passing attempts per game and the ratio of passes to runs would likely be greater if the Bulldogs had fewer blowout wins. Diminutive senior running back Robbie Rouse needs just 32 yards to eclipse 1,500 yards for the second straight season, while also catching 58 passes and scoring 14 times combined. Freshman wide receiver Davante Adams has been the key weapon in the passing game with 89 catches this season for over 1,100 yards. Many of his catches are of the short-yardage variety with only five 100-yard games, but he has the ability to create yardage after the catch. This offense averaged over 40 points per game this season, the 12th best mark in college football.

SMU still looks like the run-and-shoot teams of past years under June Jones, but the offense has not been nearly as prolific. The Mustangs averaged just 366 yards per game this season and passed about 57 percent of the time. Despite over 40 pass attempts per game, SMU only averaged 237 passing yards per game as quarterback Garrett Gilbert (famous for filling in admirably for Colt McCoy at Texas in the 2009 BCS championship game) completed just over 53 percent of his passes. Most of his throws have gone for short yardage and he had just one more touchdown pass than interception. SMU was less reliant on the pass late in the year as Gilbert threw almost 46 passes per game in the first half of the season but just 33 attempts per game in the final six games.

Senior running back Zach Line led the Mustangs with over 1,200 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns while also catching 32 passes. He rushed for at least 81 yards in 10 of 12 games this season and had at least 15 attempts in every game. Darius Johnson and Jeremy Johnson led the receiving corps with very similar numbers but both are on the small end as far as receivers go. The Mustangs do spread the ball around but the offense was very inconsistent this season, scoring an average of 42 points in wins but less than 17 points per game in losses.

While Fresno State did play Oregon and Tulsa in non-conference play, SMU played a brutal non-conference schedule, losing to Baylor, TCU, and Texas A&M. Conference USA certainly had a down year, but the Mustangs did have to play the top team from the East division for one of the tougher slates in the conference. SMU went 5-3 in league play, including beating the eventual champion Tulsa. The schedules for these teams rated similarly with the Mountain West producing a handful of respectable teams and the Bulldogs getting a boost for playing Oregon.

Defensively, Fresno State has far better numbers and while there are some holes in the SMU secondary the Mustangs are not as bad as the overall numbers suggest with a 103rd- ranked pass defense. Facing Baylor and Texas A&M put a big hit on those numbers and the pace of play for SMU allowed for more plays to be ran against them. What both defenses did extremely well was create turnovers this season. As SMU and Fresno State both picked up 33 turnovers on the season and both teams had turnover margins ranked in the top 12 of the nation. That could be a key for the outcome of this game.

While June Jones and his return to Hawaii will be a lead storyline, a great first year for Tim DeRuyter in Fresno should also be worth mentioning. Well-respected longtime Coach Pat Hill was released after last season’s disappointing 4-9 season and while Hill had a number a very good teams and big upset wins he never won a WAC title. In the first year in the Mountain West, DeRuyter has a conference title for Fresno State, albeit with mainly players Hill brought in. DeRuyter did coach Texas A&M to a bowl victory last season as an interim head coach, beating Northwestern 33-22 last season and while with the Aggies he was the offensive coordinator that helped hand SMU a 46-14 defeat last season as well.

Line Movement: Fresno State opened as a -10½-point favorite, but the line quickly climbed to -12 and later to -12½ where it has been steady much of the week before some recent buy-back to -12 at some outlets. The total opened at 59½ and has bounced down to 59. Fresno State is around -450 on the moneyline with SMU +350.

Last Meeting: In 2004, Fresno State was a huge favorite of -27 hosting a one-win SMU team in the latter part of the season. Fresno State won in a blowout with a 42-0 win, but the yardage was actually relatively close as Fresno State had a 465-356 edge as SMU had four turnovers. That was an SMU team that had won once in the previous 18 games however and a good Fresno State team was focused coming off three consecutive tight losses.

Series History: These teams played six straight seasons from 1999 to 2004 with Fresno State winning all but the first meeting S/U though going just 2-3-1 ATS. Fresno State was favored by more than 14 points in each of those contests.

SMU Historical Trends: Since June Jones took over this program in 2008, SMU is 18-16-1 ATS as an underdog and the Mustangs were 4-3 ATS in that role this season including three S/U wins. This is a fourth bowl game in a row for the Mustangs with SMU winning big twice as an underdog and losing as a favorite two years ago in a ‘home’ bowl game. Since 2009, SMU is 8-4 ATS as an underdog of 10 or more points but SMU is also just 4-8 ATS the last two seasons in non-home games.

Fresno State Historical Trends: From late 2005 until the end of last season, Fresno State was mired in an ugly 9-32-2 ATS run in the favorite role. It all changed this season as Fresno State went 9-0 S/U and ATS as a favorite this season including going 7-0 as a double-digit favorite. The only game in which Fresno State failed to cover this season was at Boise State, losing by 10 as a seven-point underdog. Fresno State is 4-7 ATS in the last 11 games as a double-digit favorite away from home and 9-14 ATS in the last 23 games overall as a favorite away from home.

  
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