It’s the greatest Christmas Eve tradition in sports.
After a hiatus due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the Hawaii Bowl is back in the rotation to grace our television screens the night before Christmas.
The creation of an additional bowl game, the Frisco Football Classic, catapulted Hawaii (6-7, 3-5 Mountain West) into bowl eligibility. Thus, for the 10th time in the bowl’s history and for the fourth time in six seasons, the Rainbow Warriors will remain home for the Hawaii Bowl. Taking a flight to the islands is Memphis (6-6, 3-5 AAC) which is participating in a bowl for the eighth consecutive season.
In an essential road game for the Tigers, Memphis is currently listed as an 8.5-point favorite per DraftKings*. The point total is listed as 55.5, which would have been exceeded in exactly five of the last 10 Hawaii Bowls. In a matchup between the AAC and Mountain West, let’s take a look at the players to watch in Honolulu this Friday night:
* Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Seth Henigan, QB, Memphis
Replacing the program’s all-time leading passer Brady White is no easy task, but Memphis effectively filled the quarterback vacancy with a talented true freshman. In his second game since graduating high school, an 18-year old Seth Henigan already proved his ability to thrive at the FBS level by delivering 417 passing yards and five touchdowns in a shootout win over Arkansas State. Henigan excelled as a pocket passer all season long and he enters the Hawaii Bowl as the 17th leading passer in the FBS. Additionally, the youngster boasts an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 25-to-8. His 336 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season finale against Tulane were instrumental in sustaining the AAC’s longest bowl eligibility streak.
Brayden Schager, QB, Hawaii
Starting quarterback Chevan Cordeiro announced his departure from Hawaii on Dec. 1, and 10 days later, he found a home within the Mountain West at San Jose State. That leaves the Rainbow Warriors without their main signal caller for the Hawaii Bowl, and Brayden Schager is the next man up. Just like Henigan, Schager is a true freshman from the Dallas metroplex area. The quarterback earned substantial playing time in October and served as the starter for Hawaii’s statement upset over Fresno State. In his final game with true freshman status, Schager looks to build on a résumé which features 615 passing yards and two touchdowns on a 60.7 percent completion clip.
Sean Dykes, TE, Memphis
Memphis will be without its All-AAC talent Calvin Austin III following the star receiver’s decision to opt out the remainder of the season in preparation of the NFL Draft. Bereft of the Luxury of the AAC’s second leading receiving yards leader, Memphis will have to turn to other options to bolster the nation’s 16th ranked passing offense. That leaves tight end Sean Dykes with an increased role. The senior caught his first pass as a Tiger in 2016 and he’ll likely catch his last Friday in Honolulu. Dykes leads all active Memphis players for the Hawaii Bowl in receptions (48), yards (657), and touchdowns (7), and the strong-armed tight end thrives off of drawing mismatches with opposing linebackers.
Calvin Turner, WR, Hawaii
Calvin Turner Jr. is no stranger to dominating bowl season. The senior running back/wide receiver hybrid won MVP honors in the 2020 New Mexico Bowl win over Houston last Christmas Eve. Turner collected a 75-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter and capped off the scoring effort for the afternoon with a 92-yard kick return touchdown. The versatile Turner produced 60 rushing yards, 88 receiving yards, and 104 kick return yards in that statement performance. Hawaii’s leading rusher Dae Dae Hunter already transferred to Liberty, so Turner should see an expanded role in the rushing attack. Turner produced 316 rushing yards and 876 receiving yards in the regular season, and he’ll look to utilize his talents to secure another bowl MVP in his collegiate sendoff performance.
J.J. Russell, ILB, Memphis
Memphis’ defense locked up one First Team All-AAC selection, and that honoree lines up in the heart of the defense. J.J. Russell produced stellar numbers all season long for the Tigers with a team-leading 123 tackles — tied for ninth in the FBS. The senior produced one sack, one interception, and one forced fumble in his strongest season to date. Russell registered double-digit tackles in half of his games this season, so when it comes to halting Hawaii’s rushing attack, Russell should be a name the PA announcer reiterates early and often.
Khoury Bethley, SS, Hawaii
Khoury Bethley is an interception machine. Only Oregon’s Verone McKinley has picked off more passes than the five Bethley secured this season. And when it comes to turning interceptions into improved field position, not many do it better than Hawaii’s star safety. Bethley ranks third in the FBS in interception return yards with 120 on the year. Interceptions aren’t his only way of inflicting damage on opposing offenses. He forced two fumbles this year, including one to set up Hawaii’s fourth quarter go-ahead field goal to beat Fresno State. Bethley is also second on the roster with 99 tackles, complemented with other eyebrow-raising statistics such 4.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss.