By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA postseason kicked off Dec. 19th, with 33 games being played in a three week span.
Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side, in the hopes of improving their status for the recruiting process that follows.
The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 33 games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well.
Let’s get to it!
Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 24th, 8:00 PM, Honolulu, Hawaii
Southern Methodist University (7-5) vs. Nevada (8-4)
About Southern Methodist : What a difference a year can make!
After hiring former Hawaii Coach June Jones, who promptly led the Mustangs to a 1-11 record in 2008, SMU is back in bowl country.
It was scary for a while, as they had hit 3-4 by midseason, and were looking at another losing record. Instead, SMU won four out of its last five games to make themselves bowl eligible for the first time in 25 years.
When Coach Jones left Hawaii for SMU, he brought his pass-heavy offense with him.
They were effective in the passing game, throwing for 267.17 yards a game (28th in NCAA FBS), but it was their running game that kept the Mustangs motoring towards the finish.
Junior RB Shawnbrey McNeal rushed for 1,125 yards and nine touchdowns, a rarity for a run-and-shoot offense. His ability to gain yards (5.2 yards per carry) helped SMU when starting QB Bo Levi Mitchell went down with an injury.
That forced Freshman QB Kyle Padron into the role, and he responded with a 5-1 record in six starts, throwing for 1,462 yards, eight touchdowns, and four interceptions.
Senior WR Emmanuel Sanders is eighth in the nation with 101.25 receiving yards a game.
They rank in the bottom half of the primary defensive statistics, so SMU will rely heavily on their offense, and turn the game into a shootout.
About Nevada : An 0-3 start, including an opening day 35-0 loss against Notre Dame, doesn’t give too many teams hope of making a bowl game.
Win eight in a row and that changes everything.
Even a season-ending loss to rival Boise State still makes Nevada a tempting team at 8-4.
Nevada won their games using a rushing attack that is rivaled to no one.
The No. 1 team in the nation in rushing (362.25 yards per game), the Wolfpack boasts an unprecedented three 1,000 yard rushers. On top of that, all three rush for over seven yards a carry.
Junior RB Vai Taua (1,345 yards, 10 touchdowns), Junior QB Colin Kaepernick (1,160, 16 touchdowns), and Senior RB Luke Lippincott (1,034 yards, nine touchdowns) are the three pieces of the rushing tripod.
Kaepernick also contributed 1,865 passing yards and 19 touchdowns, which all add up to the nations number two offense overall (521.58 yards per game), and fifth highest scoring offense (40.58 points per game).
Taua’s 122.27 rushing yards a game is ninth in the nation. They too, will look to make this game a high-scoring affair, but keep the clock running by using the run game exclusively, though they will be without Lippincott, who is out with a toe injury.
The Matchup : SMU returns to the same site they played their last bowl, when they won the Aloha Bowl in 1984. They are 4-6-1 all-time in bowl history.
Nevada is currently mired in a three bowl game losing streak, since winning their first ever appearance at the Hawaii Bowl in 2005. They are 3-6 all-time in bowl games.
Nevada also holds a 3-2 advantage in matchups against SMU.
Even without Lippincott, the combination of Taua and Kaepernick should be formative, especially in their popular “Pistol” package.
For an SMU squad that usually gives up 169.17 yards per game on the ground, that spells big trouble. Should SMU find a way to stack the box and hold the duo to minimal gains (which is difficult in itself), Kaepernick will look to keep the defense honest with play-action passes, then look to some quick outs with single coverage on the sideline.
For Padron, he benefits against facing the second worst team in NCAA FBS passing defense (Nevada gives up 284.3 yards a game). So even if Nevada can handle McNeal, Padron should find Sanders plenty, moving big chunks down the field.
The Prediction : Nevada has too many offensive weapons, with the Pistol formation, Option, and Kaepernick’s ability to throw and run. Nevada wins 54-49.