What better place to spend the holidays than on the beautiful island of Honolulu, HI, where the weather is always pristine, laden with crystal blue oceans in the backdrop? That’s where the Fresno State Bulldogs and the Rice Owls will be spending Christmas Eve. But this trip won’t be a vacation by any means — it will be all about taking care of business on the field of Aloha Stadium at the 2014 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
This should be a pretty even matchup, considering the fact that both teams have shared similar challenges this season. For instance, the Bulldogs kicked off their regular season with a three-game losing streak, and so did the Owls. They both have faced some pretty tough teams this year, all resulting in damaging losses. Fresno State struggled to the likes of the USC Trojans, Utah Utes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, all Power Five conference teams.
Similarly, two of Rice’s four losses this season were at the hands of Notre Dame and the Texas A&M Aggies, two world class competitors. Hopefully, these gut-wrenching matchups have made both teams tougher, if nothing else. The Bulldogs and the Owls’ offensive attacks are also similar, both quite capable of putting up points on the scoreboard.
Stat-wise, Fresno State averages 28.1 points per game, whereas Rice averages 28.7. Their defensive play is another story, as both give up more than 30 points per game. Hopefully, the two will spend these few weeks of additional practice mending the holes in their defense.
With such similarities, which team has the competitive edge? Well, there’s no concrete answer to that question. However, the Bulldogs have a couple of reasons to be overly motivated to win. First off, they’re coming off a heartbreaking loss to Boise State, which cost them the Mountain West Championship.
Also, this will be their second trip to the Hawaii Bowl, which means a second chance to win, considering they lost the last one to SMU back in 2012. Fresno State has 20 seniors who will be moving on after this game, and Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter would like nothing more than to send them off right with a bowl win. Fresno State should also have the competitive edge because of RB Marteze Waller, who has turned out to be quite the workhorse for the Bulldogs this season.
The 5-foot-11, 209-pound thoroughbred from Eatonton, GA has repeatedly kept opposing defenses on their heels. This year, Waller has rushed for 1292 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Averaging 6.2 yards per carry, the explosive junior has rushed for more than 100 yards seven times this season.
Even during the opener against USC, Waller rushed for 97 yards in 16 carries. His production was a little low during the Bulldogs’ recent loss to Boise State last Saturday, but he’ll surely be looking to play at peak level on Christmas Eve.
I project this Hawaii Bowl matchup to be a slugfest from start to finish, but don’t look for a lot of defense on either side. It will likely be a battle of who can score the most points in 60 minutes of gameplay.
Prediction: Fresno State 52 – Rice 41