HONOLULU – SMU (6-6) of Conference USA and Fresno State (9-3) of the Mountain West will face-off in this year's edition of the Hawai'i Bowl, the traditional Christmas Eve bowl game.
SMU head coach June Jones returns to his old stomping grounds where he led Hawaii to a 76-41 record from 1999-2007, including a 12-0 regular season record and a Sugar Bowl berth in his final year. Tired of the lack of movement in facilities upgrading, Jones left for the mainland to take the job in Dallas where his Mustang teams are 30-34 in 5 seasons, but 29-23 over the last four.
“Having been affiliated with this bowl since its inception, I know that it is one of the best bowl experiences in college football,” SMU head coach June Jones said. “I’m very excited for our players, staff and fans. This is a special experience.”
This is Jones' second trip back to Hawaii with an SMU team, returning here for the 2009 edition of the Hawai'i Bowl to whip favored Nevada 45-10. In SMU's first postseason appearance in 25 years, the Mustangs raced out to a 31-0 halftime and amassed 534 yards of total offense for the game. SMU also held Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick, now with the San Francisco 49ers, to just 23 yards rushing and 177 yards through the air.
Fresno State owns a 5-1 lead in the series with SMU and has won the last five. All of those games took place from 1999-2004 when both teams were members of the WAC. SMU began its Conference USA membership in 2005.
The Bulldogs are making their second appearance in a Hawai'i bowl game, having lost here to Colorado 41-30 in the 1993 Aloha Bowl.
Fresno State is 10-10 in major college bowl games while SMU is 6-7-1.
This was Fresno State's first season in the Mountain West and the inaugural year of the Tim DeRuyter era. The former Texas A&M defensive coordinator under Mike Sherman led the Bulldogs to a 5-win improvement this year. The offense enters this game ranked 14th nationally and the defense ranks 19th overall. Conversely, the Mustangs rank 95th on offense and 65th on defense.
SMU only managed back-to-back wins just once over the entire course of the season. A 35-27 home win over Tulsa in the regular season finale was easily SMU's signature victory of the year as it not only made the Mustangs bowl eligible, but also dealt the Golden Hurricane their only conference loss.
Fresno State lost a nonconference game at Tulsa 27-26 on September 22, but has won 7 of its last 8 games and brings a 5-game winning streak into the postseason affair.
SMU's 106th-ranked pass defense is faced with the task of slowing down Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr who is 8th nationally in yards per game and 9th in pass efficiency. SMU's 60th-ranked passing offense will work against a secondary led by All-American safety Phillip Thomas who leads the nation's 5th-ranked pass defense with an FBS-best 8 interceptions. Thomas had 3 picks against Colorado and returned 2 of those for touchdowns in a 69-14 rout of the Buffaloes. Derron Smith has 6 picks.
Statistically, this game looks like a Fresno State rout is in the works, but the Congrove Computer Rankings surprisingly project the Bulldogs to win by just 5.46 points. A win would snap a 3-bowl losing streak and secure a 10-win season for the first time since 2001.
The 2012 Hawai'i Bowl kicks off on Christmas Eve shortly after 8 EST/3 p.m. HST and will be telecast by ESPN from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.