When the ball finally leaves the tee Christmas Eve, I’m not sure if the teams participating in this year’s Hawaii Bowl will tackle each other or hang flower leis around their necks.
It’s been that kind of week.
Don’t get me wrong. Hawaii is a wonderful place to be this time of year. The weather is sunny and warm (well, mostly), the ocean is blue and beautiful and the mountains are green and lush. I’ve even seen a few rainbows.
But if there’s an actual football game going on, you’d hardly know it.
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The other day, in a hotel lobby, I found myself sitting across from two women wearing Bulldogs hoodies. Turns out they were foreign exchange students, one from Germany and the other Sweden, who met at Fresno State a few years ago.
Did they schedule their trip to the islands to coincide with the game?
“Is the basketball team playing here?” one of them asked.
Is the basketball team playing here?
Fresno State exchange student vacationing in Waikiki
You could say the Hawaii Bowl barely merits a blip on the local radar, but that would be an insult to blips.
I’ve covered several bowl games during my run at The Bee, and this one is by far the most muted and low-key. There wasn’t even a press conference, for goodness’ sake. Because besides one reporter from Fresno and another from Houston, no one would care.
Certainly not anyone living in the 50th state.
Sure, those press conferences typically turn into a two-team nap. But at least there’s a chance for interaction and maybe even some sparks. Instead, the build-up has been a snoozy mutual admiration society.
“They’re a really good football team,” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said of Houston. “We have a lot of respect for them, and we’re really going to have to bring our A game to be successful.”
“I know Fresno is a real talented team,” Houston safety Khalil Williams countered, “a lot of speed on offense and a great defense.”
Do you really think that way, I followed up in a meager attempt to stir things up, or is that what the coaches told you to say?
Williams just laughed.
“Nah, you can see it on film,” he replied. “You can see their ability.”
Since neither the Hawaii Bowl nor the participating teams are inclined to promote this game, I’ll do it myself.
Fresno State should be angry about having to end its season in a bowl whose sole purpose is for ESPN to sell TV ads on Christmas Eve.
Should’ve been in Las Vegas – Fresno State should be angry about having to end this wildly successful turnaround season in a bowl whose sole purpose is for ESPN (which owns the game) to sell TV ads on Christmas Eve.
By all rights, the Bulldogs should have played in the Las Vegas Bowl against a disinterested Oregon team. Except the Mountain West screwed Fresno State out of hosting the conference title game because it bent over backward to please Boise State.
Does anyone actually think that 17-14 outcome would’ve been the same had the MW championship been held at Bulldog Stadium?
I couldn’t have been the only person in the room thinking that while watching MW commissioner Craig Thompson hula dance on stage during Wednesday’s luau.
Fresno State should be hopping mad so few of its fans will be in attendance Sunday when 10,000-plus, easily, would’ve made the short trip to Las Vegas.
Instead, the university had to charter a plane, pay for 125 hotel rooms, five nights’ worth, during the busiest and most expensive week of the year in Waikiki, and meet a $30,000 ticket guarantee.
Will the bowl payout, reportedly around $650,000, cover those costs? Highly doubtful.
Should’ve been the home team – Fresno State should be furious about Houston being designated as the home team even though this is the Bulldogs’ third Hawaii Bowl appearance since 2012, not to mention their bi-annual visits to the islands.
Why is that a big deal? Because Houston got to practice all week at Aloha Stadium while Fresno State held its practices at the University of Hawaii campus, where you know Rainbow Warriors coach Nick Rolovich had someone secretly taping every snap. (And if he didn’t, he should have.)
Houston has reason to be angry, too. Not all that long ago (September and October 2016) the Cougars were a top-10 team that seemed destined for a New Year’s Six bowl. Instead that team struggled late, saw its head coach (Tom Herman) bail to Texas and got blasted by San Diego State 34-10 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
One year later, under first-year coach Major Applewhite, Houston went 7-4 (one game was canceled due to Hurricane Harvey) while getting passed up in the American Athletic pecking order by UCF, South Florida and Memphis.
Applewhite and Tedford made only one appearance together this week, sharing the stage during the luau. (Tedford is the far superior hula dancer, by the way. Applewhite moves like a rusty robot.)
After the music stopped, the two coaches shared a brief but awkward hug.
Let’s hope the two teams manage a little more violent contact during the actual game. Or else the Hawaii Bowl, just like the days preceding it, will be awfully dull.
FRESNO STATE VS. HOUSTON
Sunday: 5:30 p.m. at Aloha Stadium (50,000) in Honolulu
Records: Bulldogs 9-4, 7-1 Mountain West; Cougars 7-4, 5-3 American Athletic
TV/radio: ESPN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600).
Of note: The Bulldogs make a third trip to the Hawaii Bowl since 2012, having lost to Southern Methodist in 2012 and Rice in 2014. Houston is a bigger challenge. The Cougars opened with a road victory against a Power 5 team (Arizona). Houston has the Outland Trophy winner in defensive tackle Ed Oliver (14.5 tackles for loss; 5.5 sacks). A big-play offense is led by D’Eriq King, who in the past three games has completed 73 percent of his passes for 832 yards with four touchdowns and one interception, averaging 11.2 yards per pass attempt.