Fresno State Bulldogs (9-4 SU, 10-2-1 ATS) vs. Houston Cougars (7-4 SU, 6-5 ATS)
Date/Time: Sunday, December 24, 2017 at 8:30PM EST
Where: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: HOU -2.5/FRES +2.5
Over/Under Total: 49.5
In the Hawaii Bowl, the Fresno State Bulldogs take on the Houston Cougars on December 24. It’s a nice matchup, one that lends itself to different handicapping approaches along many different lines. Hats off to Fresno for such a drastic turnaround this season, coming back from a one-win 2016 season and scoring 9 big wins and winning their division under first-year head coach Jeff Tedford. They fell short on the 2nd of this month, losing to Boise State in their last game for the MWC title. Houston, meanwhile, is coming off a 24-14 win over Navy, ending an erratic regular season on a positive note. There were some nice moments along the way for the Cougars, but enough costly missteps along the way, as well.
The Bulldogs started the season 1-2, with losses to Alabama and Washington. But this season, those early-season losses must have helped, as they went on to win 8 of their next 9 games. Among the big moments was a road-smashing of a good Aztecs team, 27-3, and a nice triumph over a good Boise bunch. They met the same Boise St. team in consecutive weeks, the latter being their last game, a three-point MWC title game loss to the Broncos. In the midst of their winning patch, they played in this very stadium, beating Hawaii, 31-21. That counts for a lot. For Houston, the season started well with a road-win over Arizona en route to a 4-1 start, their only setback a razor-close loss to Texas Tech. They then went on a strange run, losing big as favorites to Tulsa, falling to Memphis, and then becoming the first team to beat South Florida with a big road win. Another bizarre loss followed, this time to Tulane, before Houston closed with the Navy win. They’ve been tough to figure this season.
Houston has been erratic and played with a wide range of form this season, seemingly without warning. They’ve also played beyond their normal capabilities at times. In the last month, the offense seems to have more explosive potential with D’Eriq King behind center. The speedy King was used as a receiver earlier in the season and can also break off nice runs. He has only tossed one interception in his 4 starts, while running the ball in 8 times. He has also shown himself to be accurate with almost 70% completions. Duke Catalon is a valuable weapon on the ground with 8 touchdowns, as Mulbah Carr and Dillon Birden (questionable) have also added valuable productivity. At receiver, they have two good receivers with Steven Dunbar and Linnel Bonner, who is also listed as questionable for this game. King’s presence gives the offense a nice X-factor and we’ll see how it works out against a good Fresno defense in Honolulu.
The Cougars’ defense has purported itself well for the most part. Again, it’s been a weird team, as their two-game patch against Tulsa and Memphis illustrated, when this defense was lost at sea. Other than that, they haven’t been embarrassed. The secondary isn’t very solid when it comes to limiting production. Still, S Garrett Davis and S Terrell Williams each have four picks and this group will make a big play here and there. On the line, Ed Oliver is an effective run-stopper and pass-rusher. This group has shown wide ranges of form from week to week, but match up reasonably with the Fresno offense.
Fresno’s offense has some variety and resourcefulness, without being all that prolific. They make up for it with a certain consistency and sound game-management. Quarterback Marcus McMaryion has shown he can be prolific and had only four interceptions on the season. The run game relies on Josh Hokit, Jordan Mims, and Ronnie Rivers, with McMaryion having added production on the ground. KeeSean Johnson was over 900 yards receiving, with Da’Mari Scott, Jared Rice, Jamire Jordan, and the backs all chipping in aerially. In scoring about 27 points a game, it’s not a great offense and they’ll need all they can summon this week.
The Fresno defense has been a saving grace in 2017. They have good balance and have really been strong since a rough start, which was natural playing Alabama and Washington. The pass-rush in fortified with Malik Forrester, Tobenna Okeke, George Helmuth, and Robert Stanley. The secondary has been solid with Juju Hughes, Mike Bell, Jaron Bryant, and Anthoula Kelly. On one hand, it would seem like Houston would have enough on offense to test this group. But since they started playing teams on their own level, Fresno State has been very stout. Following that rough patch, they have given up less than 12 points a game on average. And that’s over a 10-game stretch.
A good case can be made on either team’s behalf. For Fresno, you have to take into account what they did this season in orchestrating such a reversal of form. And that defense is no joke. They played in this stadium before and know how to navigate their way through the Hawaii-experience. Houston, however, appears to have more of an element of explosiveness of offense and maybe a higher ceiling overall. There is a flip side to that coin, however, as they have shown they aren’t all that consistent, whereas Fresno has played poorly less often in 2017. At the end of the day, I see the urgency of this game resonating with the Bulldogs. I’ll take the points.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’ll take the Fresno State Bulldogs plus 2.5 points. - Move the line on this game up to 20 points by inserting it into a 20 point football teaser at the web’s best sportsbook: 5dimes!