Fresno State Bulldogs (6-7 SU, 7-6 ATS) vs. Rice Owls (7-5 SU, 8-4 ATS)
Date and Time: Wednesday, December 24, 2014 at 8:00PM EST
Where: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
by Scott, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: FRES +1.5/RICE -1.5
Over/Under Total: 59
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In Aloha Stadium in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, the Fresno State Bulldogs will face the Rice Owls. This is Rices third straight bowl appearance after going to just two in the previous 51 years. They enter this game with 7 wins in their last 9 games. Fresno State is only 6-7, but plays in the tougher Mountain West Conference and actually won their division, losing 28-14 to Boise State in the conference championship on December 6. Each team deserves credit for making it this far after both starting the season 0-3.
Rice last played on November 29, getting smashed by Louisiana Tech, 76-31. They opened the season with three straight losses to Notre Dame, Texas A&M, and then less forgivably, to Old Dominion. Undaunted, they reeled off 6 straight wins. But things fell apart as they ran into the big dogs of their conference–Marshall and Louisiana Tech, where they came down to earth some.
Fresno State was successful this season in the sense that they won their division–in a season where it was supposed to be about rebuilding after losing most of their big-time talent. At the same time, they finished under .500 and only the stars lining up perfectly in their division allowed them to squeak into first out of default. Its been a season of streaks. They opened the season 0-3, but against tough opponents like USC, Utah, and Nebraska. They bounced back with 3 straight wins. Then, they lost 3 in a row again. Then came another 3-game winning streak–leading up to the 28-14 loss to Boise State.
Fresno quarterback Brian Burrell wont make anyone forget about Derek Carr, but the junior has been decent in spots, with 2576 yards and 22 touchdowns. Hes been sacked 31 times and thrown 16 interceptions. He can be useful with his legs in a pinch. He leans heavily on his running game, with Marteze Waller at 1292 yards and Josh Quezada also a valuable contributor. Their best aerial threat is Josh Harper, who has 86 receptions and is one of the more consistent receivers in the Mountain West.
While Fresnos offense has taken a moderate step back, the defense has been the major roadblock stopping the Bulldogs from having a bigger season in 2014. They are almost equally bad against both the run and the pass. They give up over 32 points per game on average and are the 111th ranked defense in the country. Some of those numbers were inflated by the good teams they faced, teams that far surpass the potential of Rice. But not only good teams have had success against this Bulldogs D, as teams like UNLV and Wyoming have also exploited this group.
Rice had a good season and though they came up monumentally short on the road against Marshall and Louisiana Tech, they had been in really good form. For Rice to win 6 games in a row with none of them being close is quite a feat for this Owls program. But their best win may be their November 21 win over UTEP, another bowl-bound team. In that 6-game winning streak, they beat teams who are a combined record of 23-50. So lets call a spade a spade. Against teams over .500, the Owls are 1-4 while being outscored 203-77 in their 4 losses.
Rices offense isnt really excellent in any particular area. They do offer some good balance, led by junior QB Driphus Jackson, who has thrown for over 2500 yards and 21 touchdowns, similar stats to Burrells, just with half the picks at 8. The run game is led by Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard–a capable if not terribly explosive duo. Their best receiver is Jordan Taylor, while Mario Hull is an ultra-dangerous playmaker, with a quarter of his touches going for touchdowns.
Defensively, the Owls are so-so. They arent all that bad against the run, though some opposing quarterbacks have enjoyed big days against this group. They allow an average of 30 points per game. But those numbers are inflated by their early-season games against some ranked opponents where they were in over their head, in addition to the two late-season beatings to Marshall and L-Tech. Other than that, theyve been pretty tough in holding all other opponents to 21 or fewer points.
Not that Fresno State labored in a super-tough conference, with the Mountain West Conference West Division being fairly weak. But Rice has thrived against a lower-caliber of competition. Its a tough call in a faraway neutral site between teams where neither of them are bankable commodities. But some more talented manpower could give Fresno a small edge at the end.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im taking the Fresno State Bulldogs plus 1.5 points.