Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4)
Dec. 24, 8:30 p.m. ET, Honolulu, Hawaii (ESPN)
Houston -2.5, O/U: 49
HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE
Fresno State: Jeff Tedford, the former head coach at Cal, took the Fresno State job and executed a remarkable turnaround in his first season. After a miserable 1-11 record in 2016, the Bulldogs won the Mountain West’s Mountain Division crowd before dropping a close one to Boise State in the MWC title game. Fresno played a tough non-conference schedule, losing to Alabama and Washington, but only lost one MWC regular season game en route to a division title.
Houston: Even though they were dealing with the after effects of Hurricane Harvey, the Cougars got off to a 4-1 start in their first season with Major Applewhite as head coach. The second half of the season was a little different. UH played Memphis really tough and gave USF its first loss of the season, but had perplexing road losses to Tulsa and Tulane before finishing out the year with a good win over Navy to finish 7-4.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jeffrey Allison, LB, Fresno State: Allison, a sophomore, was Fresno’s only first-team All-MWC selection in his first season as a starter. Entering the bowl game, Allison has 113 total tackles — fourth-most in the conference and 30 more than any of his teammates — along with 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Allison was twice named the conference’s defensive player of the week, including when he registered 14 tackles against Alabama.
Ed Oliver, DL, Houston: Oliver, a sophomore, dealt with a knee injury for much of the season but still put up big numbers from his defensive line position. Entering the bowl, Oliver, the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, is third on the Cougars with 69 tackles and leads the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. In 2016, Oliver was second nationally 23 tackles for loss to go with his 66 tackles and five sacks.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Once you wrap up Christmas Eve dinner and there are no more NFL games on, the Hawaii Bowl is there for your nightcap. With just a 2.5-point spread, this year’s edition has the makings of a really close game. Fresno State’s turnaround was one of the more surprising stories of the season and Houston is a team full of athletes, especially with dual-threat QB D’Eriq King now leading the offense. It should be a fun one.
WHAT’S ON THE LINE: Fresno State’s program is in the midst of a six-game bowl losing streak. The Bulldogs haven’t won a bowl game since 2007, when they knocked off Georgia Tech 40-28 in the Humanitarian Bowl, which turned into the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2011. On the other side, Houston had a terrible performance against San Diego State in the Las Vegas Bowl last year in Applewhite’s first game as full-time head coach. Applewhite was promoted after Tom Herman left for Texas, but the Cougars were blown out 34-10 by the Aztecs. They’d like to have a better showing this time around.
Nick: Fresno State 27, Houston 24
Sam: Fresno State 24, Houston 21
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