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Fresno State vs. Rice: 2014 Hawaii Bowl Preview

Football on Christmas Eve in Hawaii? Tough to beat that.

Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

The beautiful state of Hawaii is the setting for the aptly named Hawaii Bowl, which takes place on or around Christmas Eve day each year. This time around, the 13th edition, features the Mountain West Conference's Fresno State Bulldogs and Conference USA's Rice Owls, so grab those King's Hawaiian rolls (delicious, by the way) and chow down as we preview the matchup that's set for a primetime kickoff on the East Coast.

When: December 24, 2014, 8 p.m. ET (3 p.m. Hawaii Time)
Where: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI
TV: ESPN (Allen Bestwick, Rod Gilmore)
Radio: ESPN Radio (Kevin Winter, Trevor Matich)
Line: Rice -2
Weather: Cloudy w/ 50%-60% chance of rain, 70s

Who To Watch

Fresno State: The Bulldogs have an excellent junior running back in Marteze Waller (210 carries, 1,292 yards, 11 touchdowns) that was shut down by Boise State in the Mountain West title game, but should still stand to get plenty of touches on Wednesday.

Brian Burrell, who did throw 22 touchdowns despite 16 interceptions, won't blow you away with his numbers like his predecessor, Derek Carr, but does possess a little more of the dual threat capability that Carr didn't really have. Burrell's primary target is senior wideout Josh Harper, whose yardage actually improved a little from Carr's senior season (from 1,011 to 1,072) a year ago, but whose touchdown output dipped from 13 to seven. On defense, the anchor is senior DT Tyeler Davison (8.0 sacks, 12.5 TFLs, 2 FFs), who's showing on some draft boards as a 3rd or 4th round pick.

Rice: The Owls are known more for their defense than their offense, but when they run the ball, it will be a steady diet of sophomores Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard. Quarterback Driphus Jackson had a decent junior campaign and is another signal caller that doesn't have dazzling numbers, but has more of a game-managing style (just eight picks to 21 TDs). When the Owls don't have the ball, though, they'll need production out of Brian Nordstrom (a first-team C-USA selection with 18.5 TFLs and 7.5 sacks) and Zach Patt (9.5 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 3 FFs). Here's another number: 151.8. That's the rushing yards per game average that Rice has allowed this season.

Fresno State will win if...

--They can get protection for Burrell. He's been sacked 31 times so far and, with a talented duo of Nordstrom and Patt, might be on his back a few more times.
--They can figure out Rice's rush defense. Waller's a good running back, but that offensive line will need to hold that strong Rice defense back and allow him to make the plays he needs to make.

Rice will win if...

--Their defense can perform as advertised. They've shown an ability to simply get to the ball, and if they're able to do that on Wednesday, their chances of winning are high.
--Jackson doesn't try to play outside of his abilities. The junior hasn't needed to put up chunks of yardage for his team to win, and hopefully he can relax, settle down and let the game come to him.