All is quiet in the major sports world on Christmas Eve except for one game. There is no NBA, no college basketball, and no NFL. Even in the hockey world, all is mostly quiet, as the World Junior Hockey Championships begin in Edmonton on Friday.
The only game in town is the New Mexico Bowl between Hawaii and Houston. Usually the game is played in Albuquerque, but due to COVID-19 restrictions in the Land of Enchantment, the game will be played at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Houston is -9.5 with a total of 59.5 for the game at BetOnline Sportsbook. This line opened around 13, but Houston has had some players ruled ineligible due to academics, COVID-19 protocols, injuries, and opt-outs. The list is long and not everybody is known, but top receiver Marquez Stevenson is one of the players out.
With a lot of unknowns on the Houston side, let’s handicap the game and see how things stand:
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
The Rainbow Warriors are in a bit of a tough spot here. This will be Hawaii’s first game in the continental United States since November 14. It just so happened to work out that way, as they hosted Boise State, Nevada, San Jose State, and UNLV. At least Hawaii is in a decent rhythm, having last played 12 days ago and each of the seven weeks prior to that.
The first season under head coach Todd Graham has been an up-and-down one. Hawaii’s defense allowed nearly six yards per play across the eight conference games. Offensively, Hawaii struggled, going from the run-and-shoot of Nick Rolovich to the more traditional Graham offense. Hawaii did manage 6.44 yards per play in four wins, but only had 4.42 yards per play in for losses.
Pass protection has been a problem. With time to throw, Chevan Cordeiro has been a reliable player. The problem is that he’s been sacked 26 times in eight games. Cordeiro has an 11/6 TD/INT ratio and is also the team’s leading rusher with 450 yards on 108 carries. He’s scored seven touchdowns on the ground.
Therein lies another problem for Hawaii, though. Running back Miles Reed has only made one house call and has 82 carries for just 346 yards. It all starts with the offensive linemen and Hawaii’s have not played well thus far.
This will be a different Cougars bunch this week with so many players missing. It is really difficult to know how Dana Holgorsen’s team will play. Houston played Memphis 12 days ago and lost outright as a road favorite of nearly a touchdown. It was the first game in nearly a month for the team and they hadn’t played overly well in losses to UCF and Cincinnati prior to that.
The Cougars took a ton of money in the betting markets to drive that line up against Memphis and then fell flat. They were a much larger favorite here of -13 before the announcement that a lot of players would be missing. Perhaps somebody was tipped off early, but it did seem like this line was trending downward anyway.
Clayton Tune has a 13/7 TD/INT ratio and has been sacked half the times that Cordeiro has in one fewer game. We’ll have to wait and see how many weapons Tune actually has in the game with Stevenson out, though he only caught 20 passes over the seven games played for the Cougars. Kyle Porter is the leading rusher for Houston with 394 yards and 4.1 yards per carry. The Cougars have not been a very efficient offense in the running game and haven’t had many explosive plays.
Defensively, Houston allowed 5.9 yards per play. They finished the regular season just one spot ahead of Hawaii in that department. The Cougars allowed 8.1 yards per play to BYU in their one non-conference game and 5.6 yards per play in conference action, though the better teams did move the football mostly at will against Houston.
Pick & Analysis
It is always interesting when a team has a lot of players or at least some key personnel that opts out of a bowl game. It gives younger players looking for playing time the opportunity to get some game reps. Those players are motivated, albeit less experienced and maybe not as good as what was already in place.
It’s always fair to speculate about the effort we’ll see from a team in a bowl game. I think it’s fair with Houston. Hawaii should be sufficiently up for another chance to play, as the island has mostly been protected from COVID and the team hasn’t had as many slowdowns or stoppages as other programs. They are likely happy to get another game in.
With the line dropping so far on this one, it would be hard to justify taking Hawaii now, but Houston’s interest level in this game just might not be there. Usually that shows up on the defensive side, but wind will be a factor today with some gusty conditions.
For lack of a better option, it looks like Hawaii is the play.