1. When I first heard SMU was in the Hawaii Bowl, I wasn't surprised. But I was intrigued when I found out SMU's opponent would be Fresno State. This is going to be a very tough match for SMU primarily because I don't have faith in the Mustangs' secondary. There is no doubt June Jones will be excited to be coaching in his ‘homeland,' but the Bulldogs boast the 12th ranked passing attack in the nation headlined by Derek Carr, the younger brother of former No. 1 NFL draft pick David Carr. Fresno State also features a plethora of talented wide receivers and a big-time playmaker in running back Robbie Rouse. Needless to say, they are going to be tough to stop. Prediction: Fresno State 31, SMU 20.
2. The aforementioned Carr is a pretty darn good quarterback. This season, he passed for 3,742 yards and 36 touchdowns with only six interceptions and was named Mountain West Player of the Year. These numbers make Garrett Gilbert's look atrocious like he has been at times this year. To think Carr could have been SMU's starting quarterback today. Yes, Carr picked up an offer from SMU during his junior season at Bakersfield Christian. In a recent interview with NFL Draft Blitz, Carr had this to say about SMU's recruitment: ‘SMU promised me that I would start as a true freshman. It was their pitch.' But Carr chose to follow in his brother's footsteps and committed to Fresno State.
3. If SMU is going to prove me wrong, it's going to be up to the defense, which is led by former Fresno State linebackers coach Tom Mason. Before becoming SMU's defensive coordinator, Mason spent seven seasons coaching the Bulldogs and was pretty successful. He sent numerous linebackers to the NFL and helped the defense achieve great success in his last season with the program. Fresno State led the WAC in total defense, turnover margin, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and pass defense and held opponents to less than 20 points per game. Mason has done a superb job with SMU this season. But as stated, Fresno State will be extremely tough to stop so turnovers are a definite necessity.
4. Coaching decisions will also be key on Christmas Eve. Jones has had success against Fresno State, going 6-3 against the Bulldogs during his tenure at Hawaii. While digging up this information, I found an interesting stat. Although we assume Jones dominated during his nine years at Hawaii, he actually didn't and was somewhat inconsistent. Jones only won two WAC championships, one in his first year in 1999 and one in his last year in 2007. As you know, he has yet to win one at SMU. Basically, the man earning over $2 mil a year has only won two conference championships in 14 years. But he is 4-1 in Hawaii Bowls! Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter has done a tremendous job in his first year with the program and was one of the most underrated coaches in the nation. DeRuyter led Fresno State to its first conference championship since 1999, the year they happened to tie with Hawaii. The last time Fresno State played in a Hawaii Bowl was in 1993 when its quarterback was Trent Dilfer, who helped get SMU's future signal caller Neal Burcham on the Hilltop.
5. Not too long ago, SMU and Fresno State used to be WAC foes. The Ponies and Bulldogs met six times from 1999-2004 and Fresno State dominated the series. The Bulldogs won five of the six games by an average of 22 points, with SMU's only victory coming in their first meeting. That year, SMU won four in a row including a victory over Northridge State after starting the year 0-5. The 1999 season seems so long ago considering SMU's coach was Mike Cavan and the team played its home games at the Cotton Bowl. Despite the lopsided series record, this renewed WAC match should be a dandy.
Five Thoughts: SMU vs. Fresno State
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