HAWAII BOWL STORYLINES
1. With a sub-.500 record and a bitter taste in its mouth from two years ago, Fresno State returns to the Hawaii Bowl when it faces Rice in Honolulu. The Bulldogs hope to enjoy their Christmas Eve a bit more than they did when they were demolished by SMU 43-10 in their first Hawaii Bowl appearance. "We are thrilled to be playing in the Hawaii Bowl against Rice," coach Tim DeRuyter said in a statement after the bowl matchups were announced. "Having been to the Hawaii Bowl just two years ago, our staff and players know that we are in for a fantastic week."
2. Both teams are coming off a disappointing performance their last time out, particularly the Owls. Rice enjoyed its best defensive effort of the season in a 31-13 triumph over UTEP before getting obliterated by Louisiana Tech 76-31 in its regular-season finale. The Owls surrendered 677 yards - 408 through the air - and were outgained 269-34 on the ground while allowing five TDs of at least 30 yards.
3. Fresno State fell behind 28-0 against Boise State in the Mountain West championship game before two late TDs made the final score a bit more respectable. The Bulldogs dominated the Broncos from a statistical standpoint but were doomed by three interceptions by Brian Burrell and a blocked field goal while the game still was close. "This is a gutty team with tremendous resolve," DeRuyter said after the 28-14 defeat. "We were down big in this game, but our kids didn't quit. I think we represent the Valley well and we plan on going out and winning a bowl game."
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Even.
ABOUT FRESNO STATE (6-7, 5-3 Mountain West): The Bulldogs, the only team to earn a bowl berth with a sub-.500 record this season, are playing in the postseason for the 14th time in 16 years, although they have dropped five straight bowl games dating to the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl. Fresno State won the Mountain West's Western Division thanks in large part to its two best offensive players. Marteze Waller has rushed for 1,292 yards and 11 touchdowns, although he was held to 23 yards by Boise State, while Josh Harper led the Bulldogs with 86 catches for 1,072 yards.
ABOUT RICE (7-5, 5-3 Conference USA): The Owls are heading to a bowl game for a third straight season for the first time in program history, although last year's 44-7 loss to Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl was a one-sided affair. "I know they are very proud to be the first team to earn a third straight bowl berth and they have the longest active bowl streak in Conference USA, but they are not going to be satisfied with a bid," said coach David Bailiff, whose team is 7-0 when holding its opponent to 23 points or fewer. Junior quarterback Driphus Jackson set career highs against Louisiana Tech for completions (25), attempts (40), yards (337), touchdowns (four) and interceptions (three).
PREDICTION: Rice 40, Fresno State 33