Hawaii Bowl Preview: Houston vs. Fresno State

HAWAII BOWL STORYLINES

1. Points could be a precious commodity on Dec. 24, when Fresno State faces Houston in the Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. The Bulldogs led the Mountain West in scoring defense at 17.2 points per game while Houston possesses the top interior lineman in the country in Outland Trophy winner Ed Oliver, a sophomore defensive tackle who has made 37.5 tackles-for-loss in 24 career games. Oliver received American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors after recording 14.5 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks this season.

2. Fresno State won the West Division of the Mountain West and completed the biggest turnaround in the FBS this season, going from 1-11 to 9-4 under first-year coach Jeff Tedford. The Bulldogs fell 17-14 to Boise State in the conference title game and will be looking to snap a six-game bowl losing streak when they face Houston, which finished second in the West Division of the AAC. Fresno State is making its first trip to the postseason since losing to Rice in the 2014 Hawaii Bowl, while Houston is playing in a bowl game for the fifth straight season.

3. Houston’s resume includes impressive road wins over Arizona (19-16) and South Florida (28-24), as well as narrow home losses to Texas Tech (27-24) and Memphis (42-38). The Bulldogs lost back-to-back games at Alabama and Washington by a combined 63 points but responded with four straight wins, a streak capped by a dominant 27-3 victory at San Diego State. Tedford’s squad followed the win in San Diego with an ugly home loss to UNLV but closed the regular season with four straight victories, including a 28-17 triumph over Boise State.

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ABOUT HOUSTON (7-4, 5-3 American Athletic Conference): The Cougars are on their third starting quarterback of the season with sophomore D’Eriq King, who led a comeback win against South Florida and has completed 73 percent of his passes for 832 yards over the last three games. Wide receiver Steven Dunbar made eight catches for 142 yards and a touchdown in a 24-14 win over Navy in the regular-season finale and has been especially dangerous on third downs. Senior linebacker D’Juan Hines set a career high with 104 tackles and was named to the All-AAC First Team, while safety Khalil Williams (eight tackles-for-loss) received Second Team honors.

ABOUT FRESNO STATE (9-4, 7-1 Mountain West): The Bulldogs’ remarkable turnaround has been sparked by a revitalized defense and the arrival of junior quarterback Marcus McMaryion, a transfer from Oregon State who has thrown 14 touchdown passes against four interceptions. The Bulldogs’ running game has been held to 3.5 yards per carry over the last three contests, but McMaryion has several dangerous receiving targets – including 6-2 junior KeeSean Johnson, who has eight touchdown catches and needs 82 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. The stellar defense is led by linebackers George Helmuth and Jeffrey Allison, an All-Mountain West First Team selection who has made a team-high 113 tackles.

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