WHO: Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4)
WHAT: The 15th Hawai’i Bowl
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Aloha Stadium in Honolulu
THE SKINNY: While he hasn’t taken any trophies home this month, one could make a good case that Jeff Tedford is the college football coach of the year in 2017 for the work he’s done at Fresno State. After all, the former Bulldogs quarterback has sparked one of the great turnarounds in the sport this season, taking over a 1-11 team from a year ago and leading them to the doorstep of a Mountain West title and a spot in the Selection Committee’s top 25 in late November.
While optimism and good football have returned to California’s Central Valley, the dream season isn’t over yet as Fresno State aims for a 10th win — as many as the program had in the three years prior — and a bowl victory for the first time in a decade on Christmas Eve.
Leading the resurgence has been the tandem of quarterback Marcus McMaryion and wideout KeeSean Johnson. The two have hooked up for eight touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards through the air as the Oregon State transfer under center has helped inject some life into an offense that looks completely different from the same unit a year ago. Fresno’s defense also isn’t anything to gloss over either, leading the conference in scoring at just 17.2 points a game allowed.
Their opponent, Houston, knows all too well what a good defense can do for you as the Cougars sport perhaps the best defensive player in all of college football. That would be defensive tackle Ed Oliver, the Outland Trophy Award winner this season after another incredible campaign that saw him record 14.5 TFL’s and 5.5 sacks despite being double (and often triple) teamed on every snap. To say he is a disruptive force goes without saying and he’s reason enough to tune in for this game amid the holiday season.
Offensively, the Cougars have been a bit up and down in 2017 under new coach and former offensive coordinator Major Applewhite but did score some big wins over Arizona early and USF late. Part time receiver D’Eriq King has seemingly taken hold of the job behind center during the team’s last four games and, despite being the third quarterback to take snaps this year, brings plenty to the table as both a passer (832 yards, 73% passing in three starts) and a runner (seven scores on the ground).
The question is though, can Fresno State stop Oliver from wreaking havoc on every play? That’s really what this game will come down to and the Bulldogs do have experience against superstars in the trenches having played Alabama and Washington earlier in the season. While offensive linemen Aaron Mitchell and Netane Muti are a big reason why the team has only allowed nine sacks all year (fifth in FBS), something says that won’t quite hold up in Honolulu as the Cougars sneak out with a close victory in what should be a pretty competitive bowl game.
THE PICK: Houston 28, Fresno State 23
After coaching the second half of the season for Oregon State in 2017, Cory Hall is now making his way to the MAC. Hall has officially been added to the Central Michigan coaching staff, where he will serve as the team’s secondary coach and defensive pass game coordinator.
“We brought Cory in, and he made a presentation to the defensive coaching staff,” CMU head coach John Bonamego said in a released statement. “(Defensive coordinator) Greg Colby and the rest of us were impressed with his preparation and what he had to say. “There is no doubt he is a high-energy coach, and he’s a great fit for our program.”
Hall was named the interim head coach at Oregon State midway through the 2017 season following the removal of Gary Andersen. According to The Oregonian, Hall did not interview with new Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith to remain a part of the Beavers coaching staff in 2018.
Spring football practices concluded for the Colorado football program on Saturday with the playing of the annual spring game. Starting quarterback Steven Montez had his ups and downs with three total touchdowns and a pair of interceptions thrown in the scrimmage.
Montez led six and a half drives during the game, ending his day going 8-of-15 for 90 yards and two touchdown passes and two interceptions. He was also the leading rusher in the scrimmage with three carries for 43 yards. Co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini shrugged off the two picks by Montez after the game in a postgame interview.
“That’s going to happen, especially if we’re calling stuff that’s aggressive, it’s going to happen,” Chiaverini said. “What I like about him is he comes right back. It doesn’t bother him. Some guys get shy and won’t let it go. He comes right back in that two-minute drill and pulls the ball and runs for 60 yards. I like the fact that the kid loves to play football. That’s something you can’t teach kids. He loves to play, he loves to compete.”
Montez completed 609.5 percent of his passes in 2017 for 2,975 yards and 18 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
Colorado is coming off a 5-7 season, a year removed from playing for the Pac-12 championship in 2016. Colorado ended the 2017 season on a three-game losing streak to prevent the Buffs from being able to play in a bowl game at the end of the year.
Colorado estimates a total of about 4,500 fans attended the live scrimmage.
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been a joy to watch over the course of the first few days. Highlighted by some significant upsets and some thrilling finishes, this year’s tournament has everybody talking, including college football coaches. This is especially true for college football’s non-power conference programs, who seem to be celebrating the upsets performed early on by schools like Marshall, Loyola-Chicago and, of course, UMBC.
UCF took to Twitter to extend congratulations to the University of Maryland Baltimore County after the 16-seed Retrievers became the first team in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s history to upset a No. 1 seed, in which UMBC throttled No. 1 Virginia by 20 after an unbelievable second-half performance that left Virginia clueless how to respond.
UMBC has been the story of the first round for the historic upset of the Cavaliers, but FAU head coach Lane Kiffin claims he picked UMBC to win the game. In fact, Kiffin showed off a bracket in which he picked UMBC to win it all. Of course, such a bracket cannot be taken too seriously, especially after closer inspection reveals Kiffin went heavy with the underdog mentality throughout his bracket. Perhaps such a bracket strategy plays into the kind of mentality Kiffin is attempting to build at FAU.
Troy coach Neal Brown also used the UMBC upset to make a case for the Group of Five representation in college football to get more of a fair shake in the sport of college football.
Brown is not the only person to have this thought, although the idea has just as many on the other side of the fence as well. The College Football Playoff is a much smaller system to determine a college football champion and expansion is a hot-button topic of conversation for a variety of reasons. The current format allows for one guaranteed spot in a major bowl game for the highest-ranked conference champion from the non-power conferences, but undefeated UCF was still left out of the College Football Playoff last season and it may be a long time before a non-power conference champion gets a shot at the playoff.
Washington State head coach Mike Leach has proposed a 64-team college football playoff, but the most likely step for expansion of the playoff system will double the field to eight teams. That would still likely leave out some top non-power conference options, but it would leave the door open just a little wider for a team like UCF last year.
A routine U.S. Navy training flight that ended in tragedy had a college football connection.
Earlier this week, two Navy aviators were killed when a fighter jet crashed off the coast of Key West, Florida, this past Wednesday. Those who lost their lives were, according to the Associated Press, Lt. Cmdr. James Brice Johnson and Lt. Caleb Nathaniel King, who served in the “Blacklions” of Strike Fighter Squadron Two One Three (VFA-213). Johnson was the pilot of the aircraft.
“[T]he aircraft crashed on final approach to Boca Chica Field following a training mission,” Military.com wrote. While details are scant at the moment, below is from that website’s report:
The crash happened around 4:30 p.m., Hecht said. Both pilots onboard the Super Hornet ejected, he said. Initially, Hecht said a search-and-rescue effort for the aircrew was still ongoing around 6 PM, but later he said the pilots were recovered within minutes and taken by ambulance to the medical center.
An eyewitness, Barbie Wilson, told Military.com the crash “looked like something out of a movie.”
Wilson, who lives on the back side of the air station, said she stopped to watch an F/A-18 flying overhead, as she often does, and was shocked to see what appeared to be a massive malfunction in midair.
“Literally, the wings went vertical, and there was a fireball, and it just literally dropped out of the sky,” Wilson said.
King (pictured, left) was a linebacker for the Midshipmen football team from 2009-11. He played in 38 games during his time at the military academy.
“Our hearts and deepest condolences go out to the entire King family,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said in a statement. “We lost a dear brother and warrior. The entire Navy Football Brotherhood mourns the passing of a great American. We love you Caleb!”