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
As Washington State continues to come to grips with tragedy, there are those connected to the program who are hoping, even pleading, that something good can come out of the pain.
Tyler Hilinski‘s body was found Tuesday evening at his residence, dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot to the head. As those close to Hilinski mourn the sudden death of the 21-year-old redshirt sophomore quarterback, some, including teammate John Bledsoe, took to social media to express their grief.
Bledsoe is a freshman quarterback at Wazzu who is also the son of Cougar great Drew Bledsoe. On his Instagram account Wednesday, the elder Bledsoe, who acknowledged that he didn’t know Hilinski well, sent out a heartfelt message imploring men “to learn to TALK about how we are feeling.”
“If we sprain an ankle we go see a doctor,” Bledsoe wrote. “If we’re struggling emotionally we have to learn to treat it the same way.”
Everybody needs help at some point. Male or female, if you’ve gotten to that point, reach out for the help. As Bledsoe stated, it’s not a sign of weakness it’s the ultimate sign of strength. Talk to a family member, friend, co-worker, clergy, anyone. If you’re too embarrassed to talk to someone you know, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is just a phone call away at 1-800-273-8255.
Just talk to someone. Whether you believe it at the time or not, your life is worth it.
In a statement, Kansas State has confirmed the passing of head coach Bill Snyder‘s grandson and assistant coach Sean Snyder‘s son.
Emergency personnel were called to the home of Matthew Snyder Wednesday afternoon for what was described as a medical emergency. Other than the 22-year-old was deceased, no further details of the events surrounding his death have been released.
While neither of the long-time Wildcats coaches have, understandably, addressed the tragedy, K-State athletic director Gene Taylor did in a statement.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Snyder family during this very difficult time. We are deeply saddened to learn of this news and ask that the family’s privacy continue to be respected. Sean, Wanda, and the entire Snyder family are greatly appreciative of the outpouring of support displayed by the K-State Family as they cope with this tragedy.
This one seemingly comes from out of nowhere.
The starting quarterback for Lane Kiffin‘s resurgent FAU program for most of 2017, Jason Driskel was hoping again to trigger one of the most potent offenses in the country in 2018. Instead, Driskel announced on his personal Twitter account that he is retiring from the sport.
“After a lot of thinking, talking with friends and family, and prayer, I have made the decision to end my college football career,” Driskel, who has one year of eligibility remaining, wrote in the social media missive. “I undoubtedly will miss my teammates and the game with all of its trials and tribulations; but I will not regret the decision to move into the next chapter of my life.”
After going 1-2 the first three games of the 2017 season, Lane Kiffin benched starter Daniel Parr and inserted Driskel. After losing his first start at Buffalo, Driskel proceeded to help lead the Owls to 10 straight wins to close out the regular season with a school-record 11 wins. FAU won the Conference USA championship and also claimed the program’s first bowl win since 2008 for good measure.
Driskel passed for 2,247 yards, five touchdowns and just four interceptions in what turned out to be his last season at the school. He was also third on the Owls with 427 yards rushing, while his eight rushing touchdowns were second on the team.
With Driskel out, a pair of transfers, Florida State’s De'Andre Johnson and Oklahoma’s Chris Robinson, will likely battle for the starting job beginning in the spring. Even if he hadn’t retired, Driskel would’ve had to beat out that duo for the starting job, his head coach confirmed after the Boca Raton Bowl rout of Akron.
Tragedy has struck at the heart of the Kansas State football program.
According to the Manhattan Mercury, 22-year-old Matthew Snyder died Wednesday in Manhattan. Snyder is the grandson of legendary K-State head coach Bill Snyder and the son of longtime Wildcats assistant Sean Snyder.
Scant details surrounding the younger Snyder’s death have been released. From the Mercury‘s report:
Emergency personnel responded to a medical call Wednesday afternoon in the 3300 block of Claflin Avenue in Manhattan. Riley County police confirmed that there had been a death but declined to give any further information.
The house at 3309 Claflin Ave. belongs to KTMW LLC, which is owned by Sean and Wanda Snyder, according to county records.
The football program is expected to release a statement or statements on Matthew Snyder’s passing later on Thursday.
Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to those affected by the young man’s death.