San Diego State v. Cincinnati
Aloha Stadium — Honolulu, HI
December 24, 2015 — 8:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
Christmas Eve from Hawaii has been an annual tradition of the postseason calendar of the 21st century, providing the fulcrum between the first week of bowl games and the bigger spectacles on the horizon in the second and third weeks of the schedule. This year the Hawai’i Bowl will feature an AAC opponent opposite its traditional Mountain West partner invitee. For the third straight year, that team playing in the contest will be the MWC champion after San Diego State’s unexpected rise to the top of the league in 2015. They get to take on a Cincinnati squad that features one of the top five passing attacks in the country. A clash of styles is set to ring in the holidays from America’s youngest state.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
San Diego State Aztecs
In the preseason, it looked like defense would carry San Diego State as far as they could go in 2015. Calvin Munson, an All-American selection at linebacker, quarterbacked a defense that was ranked in the top 15 nationally in every major category. That success propelled the Aztecs to a 9-3 regular season, but unlike preseason predictions they were able to nab that 10th win of the season to take the MWC championship against Air Force and complete a perfect 9-0 record against conference opponents. On offense SDSU leans heavily on Donnell Pumphrey’s hard-running style in the backfield. The junior tailback punched in 16 touchdowns and ran for 1554 yards to finish 15th nationally in yards per game. That was actually 25 more yards than quarterback Maxwell Smith threw for this season, which indicates the run-heavy nature of San Diego State’s run to the Mountain West title.
Entering the season, Cincinnati looked like a contender for the AAC title. They were expected to handily sweep through the East Division, at the very least, to make things interesting. But the Bearcats lost early in September to Temple, dropped three more conference games, and limped into the postseason at 7-5 and third in the AAC East behind both the Owls and USF. Cincinnati has one of the best passing attacks in the country, despite losing Gunner Kiel in September to a neck injury. Redshirt freshman Hayden Moore stepped into Kiel’s spot behind center and Tommy Tuberville’s staff has installed a more balanced offense. Where the Bearcats fall short is in turnover margin, a stat where they rank in the bottom five nationally. The growing pains of young players gaining experience has been at the root of Cincy’s difficult season, though they have shown glimpses of promise.
What is Likely to Happen
The Cincinnati defense is 93rd nationally against the run, allowing over 190 yards per game. Donnell Pumphrey might rack that up himself in Honolulu, as a porous Bearcats defense is unlikely to be able to contain the Aztecs on the ground. Moore and the Cincinnati passing attack should be able to find some holes in the SDSU secondary, but they will likely make some mistakes as well against a defense that averages more than two turnovers per game. If you haven’t yet seen a defensive touchdown during the bowl season, this very well could be the game that provides that gift. While the Bearcats were able to rebound from a trying start to the season and reach the postseason as an improbable one-point favorite, there is no reason to expect they can keep pace with Rocky Long’s stable of backs and the timely passing of Smith.
San Diego State 34, Cincinnati 24
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