The Scoop on the Hawaii Bowl - SMU vs. Fresno State
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl - SMU vs. Fresno State (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
SMU returns to the scene of its only bowl victory since 1984, and June Jones returns to the stadium where he lead Hawaii for nine seasons. In his first season at Fresno State, Tim DeRuyter has already brought home a share of the Mountain West title and now looks to win the Bulldogs' first bowl game since 2007.
Fresno State is one of the most underrated teams in the country. This is a team that ranks in the FBS top 20 in 10 of the 17 official statistics tracked by the NCAA. The Bulldogs' defensive backfield, led by FootballScoop Defensive Backs Coach of the Year finalist Tim McDonald, ranks sixth nationally in pass efficiency defense and fourth in pass defense, and are tied for fourth in the nation with 20 interceptions. The defensive unit ranks 19th in total defense and tackles for loss, tied for 11th in sacks and fifth in turnover margin.
On offense, Fresno State is led by the diminutive but powerful runner Robbie Rouse, who ranks 13th nationally with 1,468 yards and 12 touchdowns and also boasts 58 grabs for 406 yards and two scores. Rouse's backfield mate, quarterback Derek Carr, places 12th nationally in total offense and ninth in passing efficiency with 3,742 passing yards to go with 36 touchdowns and five picks.
Fresno State has won five straight contests by an average score of 47-21.
Attempting to slow down Fresno State is an SMU team that needed a 35-27 upset of Tulsa, in which Tulsa's comeback bid fell one yard short of potentially tying the game, to reach 6-6. The Mustangs are keyed by running back Zach Line, Conference USA's leading rusher, and his 1,207 rushing yards and a dozen scores. In his first year since transferring from Texas, Garrett Gilbert has accumulated 2,720 passing yards and 13 touchdowns. Gilbert struggled early, throwing 14 interceptions in his first seven games, but has completed 93-of-161 passes for 1,062 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions over his last five outings.
SMU ranks 59th or lower in every defensive category but, like Fresno State, has forced 33 turnovers this fall. SMU may not have the best defensive unit but it does boast the best defensive player in defensive tackle Margus Hunt. A 6-foot-8 former discus thrower from Estonia, Hunt has posted six sacks, one interception, 4.5 TFL and holds the NCAA record with 10 career blocked kicks.