2012 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl Preview and Pick Against the Spread: Fresno State Vs. SMU

Fresno State and SMU will square off in the 2012 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Monday, December 24th. The Bulldogs enjoyed a successful first season in the Mountain West going 7-1 in conference play earning a share of the conference title. Overall, the Bulldogs finished 9-3 under first year head coach Tim DeRuyter. SMU started the season 2-4, but were able to finish the season with a record of 6-6 to become bowl eligible. Mustangs’ head coach June Jones is very familiar with the Hawaii Bowl having spent 9 seasons as head coach of Hawaii.

When Fresno State is on Offense

Fresno State was potent on offense this season. The Bulldogs are ranked 12th in the nation in scoring at 40.3 points per game and 12th in passing yards with 322.6 yards per game. Junior quarterback Derek Carr was phenomenal this season completing 68% of his passes for 3742 yards, 36 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. He ranks in the top ten nationally in completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, and quarterback rating. Carr’s favorite target was freshman All-American Davante Adams (1168 yards). Running back Robbie Rouse is Fresno State’s all-time leading rusher and had a great 2012 season. Rouse ran for 1468 yards and was an effective receiver as well with 406 yards through the air.

SMU ranks 57th in the nation in scoring defense giving up 27.0 points per game. The Mustangs recorded two shutouts this season, against Stephen F. Austin and UTEP. SMU failed to generate much of a pass rush this year with only 17 sacks as a team. However, their secondary played well with 19 interceptions and 6 returns for a a touchdown, tied for first in the country.

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When SMU is on Offense

SMU ranks 60th in the nation in scoring at 29.5 points per game. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert struggled this season completing just 53% of his passes with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He played better in the last five games of the season throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions, while picking up 246 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. Senior running back Zach Line went over 1000 yards for the third straight season racking up 1207 yards on 258 carries. His 4.7 yards per carry this season was much lower than the previous two years when he averaged 5.9 and 6.1 yards per carry.

Fresno State went to a 3-4 defense this year and they were much improved over prior seasons. The Bulldogs rank 27th in scoring defense giving up an average of 22.3 points per game. The 3-4 defense incorporates more blitzes than the ‘Dogs have used in the past and the aggressive style paid off. Fresno State ranks 13th in the nation in sacks with 34 and 4th in interceptions with 20. Fresno State is tied with SMU for the most interception returns for touchdowns with 6. Safety Phillip Thomas was a consensus All-American after leading the nation with 8 interceptions this season.

2012 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl Pick Against the Spread

Fresno State is currently a 12-point favorite over SMU in the 2012 Hawaii Bowl. The Bulldogs certainly had an impressive season, and are better statistically on both offense and defense. Fresno State was 11-1 against the spread this season, so my head tells me to pick the Bulldogs to cover against SMU. However, the two teams played one common opponent this season, Tulsa, and Fresno State lost 27-26 while SMU beat Tulsa 35-27. So, my head is also telling me to take SMU with the points.

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When my head tells me two different things I go with my gut feeling. Right now, my gut is telling me that Fresno State is going to win big. The Bulldogs had new offensive and defensive schemes this season and the team that finished the season is much better than the team that lost to Tulsa in the fourth week of the season. Derek Carr has the ability to pick apart defenses and has plenty of weapons around him. Fresno State’s aggressive defense will force turnover-prone Garret Gilbert into mistakes, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Phillip Thomas pick up his ninth interception of the year.

Prediction: Fresno State 45 – SMU 28