The Cincinnati Bearcats and San Diego State Aztecs can trade in their evergreens and jingle bells for palm trees and ukuleles. They're headed to Hawaii for Christmas.
The Aztecs and Bearcats will meet on Dec. 24 with an opportunity to cap their winning seasons on a high note.
The bowl game represents a chance for both programs to turn recent bowl struggles around. For all the success that Rocky Long has brought to the San Diego State program as head coach, they are just 1-3 in the postseason under his guidance.
Tommy Tuberville has had similar struggles in turning the Bearcats into a postseason player. Despite 9-3 seasons in his first two years at the school, they are 0-2 in bowl games.
|2015 Hawaii Bowl Information|
|Matchup||Cincinnati (American) vs. San Diego State (Mountain West)|
|Location||Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii|
|Date||December 24, 2015|
|Start Time||8 p.m. ET|
So which one of these teams has the best shot at ending its slump? Here's a look at what to expect from both teams and how this game should shake out.
What to Expect from the Cincinnati Bearcats
Stopping the Bearcats comes down to one basic question. Can you force Gunner Kiel into making mistakes?
Cincinnati loves to air it out with the former Notre Dame quarterback. He has 316 attempts this season despite playing in only 10 games. When Cincinnati has been successful this season, Kiel is making good decisions and throwing the ball well.
For the season Kiel is 206-of-316 for 2,777 yards and 19 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
|Cincinnati Bearcats Profile|
|S&P+ Rush Rank||60|
|S&P+ Overall Rank||21|
|FEI Overall Rank||58|
|S&P+ Rush Defense Rank||121|
|S&P+ Pass Defense Rank||62|
However, Kiel is much like the Bearcats team as a whole. He—and by extension his team—suffers from inconsistency.
That's how you get a team that barely beat both Miami from Ohio and the Miami from Florida. Kiel can show up like the quarterback who picked apart Tulsa to the tune of 386 yards and two touchdowns in one game or like the quarterback who showed up the next week to go 8-of-15 for 84 yards and two interceptions against South Florida.
As the numbers show, the real concern for the Bearcats will be on the defensive side of the ball. Tuberville's squad has struggled mightily at times this season—especially with stopping the run.
The Bearcats give up a whopping 5.02 yards per carry. And it's a big reason they give up 30 points per game.
It's a weakness that could continue to haunt them into the bowl game.
What to Expect from the San Diego State Aztecs
Under head coach Rocky Long, the Aztecs have developed a clearly defined identity. They're going to run the ball effectively and stop the opposing offense from running the ball.
It's an approach that has worked wonders.
While the Bearcats suffered a bit of a letdown from back-to-back 9-4 seasons, San Diego State continued its upward trend with its first 10-win season under Long, including a Mountain West title.
Here's a look at their profile using the same metrics as Cincinnati:
|San Diego State Aztecs Profile|
|S&P+ Rush Rank||82|
|S&P+ Pass Rank||79|
|FEI Overall Rank||55|
|S&P+ Rush Defense Rank||3|
|S&P+ Pass Defense Rank||75|
The metrics might not love the Aztecs running game in terms of efficiency, but it is effective from a sheer volume standpoint. They've rushed for over 3,000 yards this season and are No. 15 in rushing yards per game.
A lot of that has to do with Donnel Pumphrey. The junior is ninth in rushing this season with 1,554 yards on the season.
Pumphrey doesn't do it all on his own, though. San Diego State also benefits from consistent quarterback play. As GoAztecs Stats notes, the Aztecs hold the current streak for most pass attempts without an interception:
GoAztecs Stats @GoAztecsStats
#AztecFB has now gone 196 passes without throwing an interception, extending the longest active streak in the country.2015-12-6 05:33:04
Quarterback Maxwell Smith has been effective in leading the offense without turning the ball over all season. He finished the season with 13 touchdowns to two interceptions. However, backup quarterback Christian Chapman played in the Mountain West Championship Game and went 9-of-14 for 203 yards and a touchdown without an interception.
Where Long's team really excels, though, is on the defensive side of the ball. The Mountain West champions allow just 3.2 yards per carry and force teams to be one-dimensional.
Looking at the matchup, this game has the potential to be a close one. At least in the first half.
San Diego State's defense is strong overall but has a secondary that can be exposed. Kiel has had some rough spots this season, but he certainly has the tools to take advantage of those weaknesses.
Even the Aztecs' weakness can be a strength, though. Their secondary might get beat occasionally, but it's also No. 5 in the nation in interceptions with 20.
The Bearcats' hopes to win this game relies on him jumping out to a lead against a secondary that excels at capitalizing on bad decisions.
If Cincinnati fails to jump ahead, it means that the team is going to have to trust the defense to stop the run over the course of four quarters. Given the numbers surrounding this game, that's not a good bet to make.
The Aztecs have come a long way since starting the season 1-3. Long commented on his team's resolve after winning the Mountain West Championship Game.
"I was concerned, visions of the early season were coming back to me as we dropped punts and caused fumbles we didn't recover," said Long, according to Kirk Kenney of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "You get very concerned. Did I have any concern that our players would stop playing? None whatsoever."
That sounds like a team that is ready to outplay an opponent over the course of four quarters. Expect the Aztecs run game to take over late and put the game away.
Prediction: San Diego State 34, Cincinnati 21
Statistics via cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.