Fresno State v. Rice
Aloha Stadium — Honolulu, HI
December 24, 2014 — 8:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
This game features two conference champions… from last year. And with the Pro Bowl skipping out of Honolulu for the 2015 edition, this is probably the only game you’re going to see broadcasted from Aloha Stadium this season unless you’re a Rainbow Warriors fan. After catching one bowl game from an Atlantic island chain, this is your opportunity to bookend Christmas Eve with football from a Pacific island chain. Sometimes the best games occur in the far-flung outposts of the bowl calendar, and this will offer a little more cheer for your holiday season.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Sure, Fresno State is the only sub-.500 team playing in the bowl season, thanks to an NCAA waiver as MWC West champion. While a Sun Belt champion (9-3 Georgia Southern) and five other bowl-eligible teams are sitting home for the holidays, Fresno gets to bask in Hawaiian sunshine. The Bulldogs are far removed from the Derek Carr-led dominance of last season that saw the team challenge for a BCS Buster berth in the final season of the old system. But they will still likely have the best player on the field in tailback Marteze Waller, and Brian Burrell has been a serviceable replacement for Carr at quarterback. A defense that allows nearly 33 points per game and ranks outside the top 100 in the country could betray the Bulldogs’ effort to end their five-game bowl losing streak dating back to 2008.
The Owls were one win away from booking a second straight spot in the C-USA Championship Game. Then they went to Ruston, where Louisiana Tech throttled Rice 76-31 in a winner-take-all showdown. That said, this is the first time in the school’s long football history that the Owls will head to a third straight bowl game. David Bailiff’s team scored slightly more points per game than Fresno State and allows just under two fewer points per game than the Bulldogs. Neither their wins nor their losses have been particularly close contests, and so it comes down to which Rice team will show up in Honolulu. Quarterback Driphus Jackson has had a solid season and could make the difference in this contest; in a head-to-head comparison with Bennett, he has thrown for 52 fewer yards and one fewer touchdown… but needed 105 fewer attempts to get there, and threw only eight interceptions all season.
What is Likely to Happen
For all its warts, this is a well-paired battle between fairly similar teams in terms of quality. Mediocre offenses will face mediocre defenses, meaning there will be the potential for some points as momentum shifts back and forth. The final result will likely come down to a turnover — and given that Bennett’s 16 interceptions this season are four more turnovers than Rice’s entire team has given up this year, that should work in the Owls’ favor. (Fresno State was -5 in turnover margin, while Rice was +6 during the season.) After the two teams trade touchdowns back and forth, a late Bennett interception will put the Owls in position to set up a late field goal for the victory.
Rice 45, Fresno State 42