Cincinnati Bearcats (7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. San Diego State Aztecs (10-3 SU, 7-5-1 ATS)
Date/Time: Thursday, December 24, 2015 at 8PM EST
Where: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CIN -1.5/SDSU +1.5
Over/Under Total: 57
The Cincinnati Bearcats take on the San Diego State Aztecs in the Hawai’i Bowl on December 24. Cincinnati was 7-5 on the season in what was a topsy-turvy year for the AAC team. They ended the season on a positive note, beating East Carolina on the road, 19-16 on November 28, covering their 4th spread in their last six games. San Diego State, meanwhile, ended the season with a lot of flair, winning their last 9 games, including a 27-24 win over Air Force on December 5 in the Mountain West Conference title game. Frankly, it’s a pretty lousy bowl placement for a 10-win team that are conference champions.
San Diego State can run the heck out of the ball and they play tremendous defense. It’s not an altogether-complicated recipe for success, but a dependable one. And they have a little built-in advantage with being familiar with the stomping grounds they enter in this game, having played Hawaii on the road this season in this very venue, winning 28-14 on October 10. And it’s a lot shorter of a road trip for SDSU than it is for Cincinnati. The furthest west Cincy ventured this season was in a road game against BYU. After a perfunctory week one win over the University of San Diego Torreros, SDSU dropped 3 straight to fall to 1-3 on the season. Things looked bad. The game-plan looked stale and foretold a tough 2015 season. They lost to Cal and Penn State on the road—forgivable losses, at least. But in dropping a home game to South Alabama, one was within sound reason to start shoveling dirt on this Aztecs’ bunch. We now see that would have been a mistake, with the Aztecs unbeaten since September 26.
Cincinnati has done as well as they could with the problems they’ve faced. A scary concussion to starting quarterback Gunner Kiel set the team back some. Replacement Hayden Moore was explosive in spots in relief, but also mistake-prone. Cincinnati still has the 5th-ranked offense in all of college football even with the injury issues at QB. Kiel looks to start this game and when dialed-in, the Cincy offense is in fact a dangerous one.
While the Bearcats are more known for their aerial exploits, they can run the ball fairly well, with Mike Boone, Hosey Williams, and Tion Green combining for 2143 yards and 20 TDs. But the bread-and-butter of this offense is the passing-game, with an amazing half-dozen ball-catchers with at least 400 yards receiving. Shaq Washington and Chris Moore are good playmakers for this offense through the air. This is a dangerous group and although SDSU has played great defense this season, they are facing an offense here that can do damage.
Obviously, when you have a 7-5 team in the AAC that has the 5th-ranked offense in the land, the defense is going to be a major liability. And it has been this season for the Bearcats, with an average of over 30 points allowed this season. They are 93rd against the run, giving up over 190 yards per game. And as far as playmaking ability, they are among the worst teams in all of college football. Only three teams in the country have fewer sacks than Cincinnati has with a pitiful 12. And they’ve only secured 14 turnovers the entire season. This unit is going to have to find something for this matchup. In their second-to-last game, they gave up 65 points to South Florida, a team similarly-styled to San Diego State. In that game, Cincy’s “D” gave up 355 yards on the ground. Anything similar to that in this game will result in a lopsided defeat.
San Diego State relies on a robust run-game on offense. They have a fantastic back in Donnel Pumphrey, who has 1554 yards on the ground, while being second on the team in receiving yards. He had 19 touchdowns this season. RB Chase Price has nearly 1000 yards on the season on the ground with 7 touchdowns, while RB Rashaad Penny added 5 touchdowns. Through the air, QB Maxwell Smith was efficient, with 13 TDs and just two picks on the entire season. He works well with Micah Holder and Micah Judge, but the bread and butter of this offense is definitely the ground game. A knee injury suffered in the second-to-last game of the season kept him out in the MWC title game and he is questionable for this game. Against Air Force, Carlsbad High freshman Christian Chapman started in his place and truth be told, the offense seemed off-key, as a result.
The Aztecs’ defense is a flourishing unit that is the 5th ranked “D” in the country. They feature excellent balance and playmaking ability, ranked 13th against the pass and 5th against the run, while giving up an average of just over 17 points per game. They can produce a lot of mayhem, having picked off 20 passes this season, while recovering 11 fumbles. That could come in handy against a mistake-prone Cincy offense. And they really get after the opposing passer, with 33 sacks on the season. LB Calvin Munson makes plays, with 9 sacks and a pair of pick-sixes. And Damontae Kazee is among the leaders in college football with 7 picks.
The point-spread of Cincinnati by 1.5 points is a reflection of a few things—the Bearcats explosive offense and the iffy QB situation for SDSU. But with a lot of time to get ready for this game and the fact that the SDSU offense isn’t a QB-driven one should mean that the Aztecs will be OK from an offensive standpoint. All in all, they’re the better team and though they’ve won only two bowl games since 1969, I see them finishing the season with a big win.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the San Diego Aztecs plus 1.5 points.
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