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Hawai’i Bowl: Houston vs. Fresno State Game Preview

One final game for the 2017 Houston Cougars

NCAA Football: Navy at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Sunday, December 24th

Kickoff: 7:30pm CT

Location: Aloha Stadium (Honolulu, HI)


Stream: WatchESPN

Line: Houston -2.5

Series Record: First meeting

It’s been a crazy week for the Houston Cougars. Major Applewhite has been busy getting his team ready to face Fresno State, but also needed to focus on the future as well. A new National Signing Day era began this year, and recruits were able to sign with the Cougars on December 20th. With Applewhite in Hawai’i, it added a wrinkle for his staff that he wasn’t expecting, though it didn’t seem to affect their class much. Overall, the new signing period is going to be good for college football, and Houston just had to adjust more than most schools. Now, it’s time to focus on a game.

After an interesting year (to say the least), we have arrived at this point. In Hawai’i. I think that’s considered a win for everyone there just by being in the state. Not much more needs to be said about this team other than a win over Fresno State would erase last year’s debacle against another Mountain West team.

San Diego State absolutely whooped Houston last year, and you can bet the returning players didn’t forget about that feeling. Fresno State has been one of the biggest surprises in college football, and I think they don’t get enough attention despite that. The Bulldogs went from 1-11 to 9-4 under Jeff Tedford, and were very close to winning the Mountain West. For a more complete preview of the Bulldogs, check out our Q&A with the Mountain West Wire.

What do we look for on the Houston side for this game? It’s obviously one last chance for seniors to play with their team, but it’s also a chance to preview the future. Players like receivers Steven Dunbar Jr. and Linell Bonner will wrap up their careers, but players like Keith Corbin and Courtney Lark could preview what 2018 will look like. There are players at every position that will be intriguing to watch, but it might be a change in the coaching staff that will be the most interesting.

Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson decided to rejoin Dan Mullen in Florida at the same position, leaving Applewhite without an offensive coordinator for the game. Applewhite will call the plays for the bowl game, and hopefully he can find a promising candidate in the offseason. Most of the gripe this season has been the lack of creative play-calling and pace. Applewhite addressed the pace issue halfway through the season by having the Cougars become even more of a no-huddle team and playing with some urgency. Play selection got better, but it seemed to be predictable in key situations. A big reason why Applewhite got into his current position is his success as offensive coordinator last year for Houston, so expect glimpses of last year. And trick plays. It’s bowl season after all, and trick plays are a common sighting.

In case you needed confirmation, Ed Oliver is playing too. If that’s not enough for you to watch this game, I can’t help you. We will also watch D’Juan Hines, Matthew Adams, and Khalil Williams for the final time as well. All three have been entertaining to watch this year, and will leave big shoes to fill next year.

Simply put, there’s not much you don’t already know for this team. It’s been an interesting season covering the Houston Cougars, and it’s crazy that 2017 is coming to an end. Hopefully, Houston can erase the memory of last year’s bowl game, and end the roller coaster ride on a positive note.


Houston should come ready to play. Last year’s loss definitely stung, and wasn’t the best way to end a disappointing season. With Applewhite settling everything down this year, this team has a good chance of winning. It will be a close one though.

Houston 24 Fresno State 21