2009 Hawaii Bowl - SMU vs. Nevada
Nevada's Colin Kaepernick & SMU's Emmanuel Sanders
Nevada's Colin Kaepernick & SMU's Emmanuel Sanders
Posted Dec 18, 2009

The CFN 2009 Hawaii Bowl Preview & Prediction - SMU vs. Nevada

2009 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

SMU (7-5) vs. Nevada (8-4)

Honolulu, HI, Dec. 24, 8 pm,, ESPN

Scroll Down For Bowl Histories & Best Moments

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Team Pages and 2009 Season

- 2008 CFN Hawaii Bowl Preview
- 2007 CFN Hawaii Bowl Preview
- 2006 CFN Hawaii Bowl Preview
National Rankings
61st Total Offense 2nd
92nd Total Defense 88th
54th Scoring Offense 5th
90th Scoring Defense 74th
100th Rushing Offense 1st
88th Run Defense 26th
28th Passing Offense 107th
82nd Passing Defense 119th
57th Turnover Margin 70th
Position Ratings
relative to each other
S 5 highest
1 lowest
3 Quarterbacks 5
3.5 RBs 5
4 Receivers 2
2 O Line 4.5
2.5 D Line 4.5
3 Linebackers 3
2.5 Secondary 1.5
3 Spec Teams 2.5
4 Coaching 5
Hawaii Bowl History
2008 Notre Dame 49, Hawaii 21
2007 East Carolina 41, Boise St 38
2006 Hawaii 41, Arizona State 24
2005 Nevada 49, UCF 48 OT
2004 Hawaii 59, UAB 40
2003 Hawaii 54, Houston 48 3OT
2002 Tulane 36, Hawaii 28
Sure, a game between a Conference USA also-ran and a WAC runner-up on Christmas Eve isn't a exactly an easy sell, but that doesn't mean it isn't rife with juicy storylines and sub plots. In fact, in terms of under-the-radar December match ups, the Hawaii Bowl could wind up being a very pleasant surprise for those tuning in.

The Hawaii Bowl has traditionally provided the backdrop for some of the highest-scoring and most entertaining games each postseason. Not only does it offer an ideal setting for a frozen country, but two of the seven games have needed overtime and the winning team has never scored less than 36 points. With pass-happy SMU and the unstoppable, top-ranked running game of Nevada convening at Aloha Stadium, this year figures to be no different.

The Mustangs will be making their long-awaited return to the postseason, earning a bowl berth for the first time since the pre-NCAA death penalty days of 1984. But wait, there's more. They're also being guided by June Jones, who'll be making his return to the islands, scene of his biggest achievements as the head coach of Hawaii. An icon in these parts, it'll be interesting to see how warmly he's received by those fans who detested his departure following the Sugar Bowl run.

While many have tried to get SMU past the threshold, none have succeeded…until now. It's taken Jones just two short years to put his stamp on the program and lead it over the .500 mark. Hardly a finished product at this stage, the Mustangs continue to work at perfecting the run-and-shoot offense that's been a staple of all of Jones' teams. This year's squad, however, is far less one-dimensional, featuring 1,000-yard rusher Shawnbrey McNeal, a Miami transfer, and an opportunistic defense.

Under Jones, who's had his share of highlights, SMU is just beginning to learn how to win. Heck, had the Mustangs not stumbled at Marshall on Nov. 21, it would have won the West Division and played East Carolina in the Conference USA championship game. A bowl upset would represent another giant stride for Jones and a very young team whose best days lay ahead of it.

It's been an odd season in Reno for Nevada. Is this really the same team that began the year 0-3, losing to Notre Dame, Colorado State, and Missouri? Suffice it to say, the Wolf Pack took a while to get cranking, but when it did, no defense on the schedule was able to slow down Chris Ault's Pistol offense. During an eight-game winning streak, Nevada hung up more than 60 points four times, churning out pinball-like numbers on the ground and becoming the first team in FBS history to boast three 1000-yard rushers on the same roster. Though RB Luke Lippincott will not be available, All-WAC sidekicks Vai Taua and QB Colin Kaepernick can't wait to face that suspect SMU defense for 60 minutes on a fast track.

Yeah, it'll score a ton of points, but the knock on the Wolf Pack in recent years has been that it doesn't make key stops on defense and is unable to win the big games. Those cries got a little louder in the regular season finale at Boise State. With the WAC championship on the line, Nevada saw its two-month winning streak and dream of a title come to an end. It fell into an early ditch, got carved up by QB Kellen Moore, and failed to complete the comeback. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise exhilarating regular season. Although beating the Mustangs as a heavy favorite won't shed any of those negative stereotypes, the program can still take something positive out of its first bowl win since 2005 and only its third in school history.

Players to Watch: Bo Levi Mitchell was the quarterback of the future in Dallas until he got hurt, opening the door for true freshman Kyle Padron. Mitchell is healthy again, but Padron shows no signs of going away. Still feeling his way through the process, he's a good fit for the system, combining athleticism with an accurate arm. If the Mustangs are going stay with Nevada, they'll need Padron to get the ball in the hands of explosive receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Aldrick Robinson as much as possible. Robinson is a phenomenal all-around athlete, but Sanders is the biggest concern for a leaky Wolf Pack secondary. A polished, big-play guy, he's caught 91 passes for a school-record 1,215 yards and six touchdowns.

Padron better have good peripheral vision because Nevada harbors one of the quickest and most disruptive bookends outside the major conferences. Dontay Moch and Kevin Basped are glorified strongside linebackers, with the get-off to blow past opposing tackles shortly after the ball is snapped. The juniors have combined for 30 tackles for loss and 14 sacks, meeting in the backfield regularly. Padron's best protection will come from Kelvin Beachum, a sophomore with great feet and a future in the pros once he adds more weight.

SMU hasn't stopped a good back all year. Now it has to try to slow down two talented runners. While Colin Kaepernick may play quarterback, when he gets outside the pocket, he becomes a greyhound. A long strider with great speed, he's run for 1,160 yards and 16 scores on only 148 carries. In Taua, he has a gifted running back, who's gone for 100 yards the last eight weeks and 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. With Lippincott out, the Mustangs will see more of shifty Mike Ball and Lampford Mark as well. LB Chase Kennemer could be good for 20 tackles on this day, but he'll need a lot more help from the linemen and safeties in order to force a few more punts.

SMU will win if ... it gets back to creating a slew of turnovers. In the early going of the season, the Mustangs were picking off passes and stripping the ball with alarming regularity. However, that tailed off considerably in the second half of the year. While they won't stop the Wolf Pack offense, they can slow it down by prying the ball loose and putting it back in the hands of Padron as often as possible. The primary thieves have been Kennemer, S Chris Banjo, S Rock Dennis, and CB Bryan McCann, who have to find ways to mess with Nevada's offensive rhythm. If the Pack is permitted to play mistake-free football, it's going to steamroll through an overmatched SMU D for all four quarters.

Nevada will win if ... the ground game keeps chugging along like a locomotive. The Wolf Pack leads the nation in rushing at a stunning 362 yards a game and nearly eight yards a carry, daunting numbers for a Mustang defense that struggles in this area. When this offense begins to roll downhill and jet through seams, it's often lights out for the opposition. Not only can Nevada pile up the points, but it also has a knack for taking the fight out of the other team when it gets going. It's not as if SMU doesn't have the offense to mount a comeback, but if the defense stays on the field too long, it'll be gassed in the hot Hawaiian sun by early in the second half. The Pack is determined to wear out the Mustangs with Kaepernick and Taua, dominating up front with all-league linemen Alonzo Durham and Kenneth Ackerman. The backbreaker will be provided by the fresh legs of Ball and Mark, who'll zip through the defense without much resistance.

What will happen: If you love goal line stands and key defensive stops, you might want to go caroling for about four hours during this game. The offenses figure to dominate in another high-scoring, wide-open Hawaii Bowl.

SMU will move the ball on Nevada and keep things interesting for a while, but it won't be nearly enough unless the Pack gets careless with the ball. Its running game is in a league of its own, ripping through defenses with precise misdirections and a multitude of different options. The Mustangs will be chasing Nevada all evening; chasing it on the scoreboard and chasing Kaepernick and Taua from behind. Oh, and if SMU attempts to inch too many defenders up, Kaepernick is more than capable of burning them with the help of WR Brandon Wimberly, the WAC Freshman of the Year. By late in the third quarter, the Pack will have built a big enough cushion to avoid a late rally or a blown lead.

CFN Prediction: Nevada 45 … SMU 27 ... Line: Nevada -14.5

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Best Wolf Pack Bowl Moment: In one of the most exciting games of the 2005 bowl bonanza, Nevada got by UCF in the Hawaii Bowl, 49-48, in overtime. In a wild, see-saw game that featured 1,178 yards of offense, the Wolf Pack got off the island with a win after Matt Prater missed an extra point that would have sent the game to a second extra session.

Best Mustang Bowl Moment: Just because SMU hasn't sniffed the postseason since 1984 does not mean the school lacks history in this area. The Mustangs' most memorable moment came in the 1983 Cotton Bowl, a 7-3 win over Pittsburgh to finish the season with no losses and just a tie to Arkansas. Though Dan Marino was the more heralded quarterback entering the game, Lance McIlhenny was the hero, scoring the game's only touchdown and deftly running the option with the help of Eric Dickerson and Craig James.

Nevada Bowl History (4-4)
2008 Human. Maryland 42, Nevada 35
2007 New Mexico New Mexico 23, Nevada 0
2006 MPC Computers Miami 21, Nevada 20
2005 Hawaii Nevada 49, UCF 48 (OT)
1996 Las Vegas Nevada 18, Ball State 15
1995 Las Vegas Toledo 40, Nevada 37 (OT)
1992 Las Vegas Bowling Green 35, Nevada 34
1948 Salad Nevada 13, North Texas 6
SMU Bowl History (4-6-1)

1984 Aloha SMU 27, Notre Dame 20
1983 Sun Alabama 28, SMU 7
1982 Cotton SMU 7, Pitt 3
1980 Holiday BYU 46, SMU 45
1968 Bluebonnet Oklahoma 28, SMU 27
1966 Cotton SMU 24, Georgia 9
1963 Oregon 21, SMU 14
1948 Cotton, SMU 21, Oregon 14
1947 Cotton SMU 13, Penn St 13
1935 Rose Stanford 7, SMU 0
1924 Dixie Classic, West Virginia Westleyan 9, SMU 7