SMU faces Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl (SMU Athletics)
When: December 24, 2009, 7 P.M. (CST)
Where: Aloha Stadium (50,000), Honolulu, Hawaii
Radio: KTCK 1310 AM - The Ticket
Series: Nevada leads 3-2
Line: Nevada -13/73
Twenty-five years ago, Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, the NFL’s Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis, June Jones was the receivers coach for the USFL’s Houston Gamblers, Chris Ault was starting his coaching tenure at Nevada and SMU played in its last bowl game, beating Notre Dame in the Aloha Bowl. None of the current SMU players were born.
Fast-forwarding to 2009, Jones – in his second year as coach of the “All Grit, No Quit” Mustangs – engineered the most dramatic turnaround in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision and is leading SMU back to Aloha Bowl stadium, this time in the Hawaii Bowl against Nevada. Jones definitely earned the Sporting News’ Conference-USA Coach of the Year award.
While starting 13 freshmen or sophomores – the third-highest total of underclassmen starters in the FBS – SMU won six more games than in 2008. After quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell suffered a shoulder injury, freshman Kyle Padron stepped in and won four of five starts. Running back Shawnbrey McNeal, who became eligible just one day before the season started, ran for more than twice as many yards as the entire team recorded the previous season. Emmanuel Sanders set school records with 91 receptions and 1,215 yards while ranking fifth in the nation in punt return yardage. Although the defense allowed 29 points and 169 yards rushing per game, the Mustangs intercepted 16 passes and forced 11 fumbles to rank 17th in the nation. SMU also blocked nine kicks, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
The Wolf Pack started the season 0-3, but won eight straight before falling to Boise State 44-33 in its regular season finale. Nevada is playing in its fifth consecutive bowl game, its second Sheraton Hawaii Bowl since 2005.
Nevada led the nation in rushing with 362 yards per game and rushing touchdowns with 48 while becoming the first school in NCAA history to have three players run for 1,000 yards in a season. However, 1,000-yard rusher Luke Lippincott will not play due to a toe injury and leading ground gainer Vai Taua has been ruled academically ineligible, leaving the quarterback Colin Kaepernick as Nevada’s only 1,000-yard rusher in the Hawaii Bowl.
Nevada’s pass defense allowed 284 yards per game to rank No. 119 out of 120 FBS teams. Opponents scored an average of 27 points and gained 399 total yards against the Wolf Pack, so expect one of the higher-scoring games of the bowl season.