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Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Houston Cougars Point Spread - Pick

Fresno State Bulldogs (9-4 SU, 10-2-1 ATS) vs. Houston Cougars (7-4 SU, 6-5 ATS)
Hawaii Bowl
Date/Time: Sunday, December 24, 2017 at 8:30PM EST
Where: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
TV: ESPN

By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: FRES +2.5/HOU -2.5
Over/Under Total: 50

The Fresno State Bulldogs take on the Houston Cougars on December 24 at the Hawaii Bowl. Fresno State had a big season, adding eight wins to their total from last season and getting to the conference title game, which they lost in their last outing, 17-14, to Boise State on December 2, a team they had beaten the week before. They now take on a Houston Cougars team that last played on November 24 in a 24-14 win over Navy. It has been an up-and-down season for the 7-4 Cougars, as they look to finish the season with a bang.

The venue is always a concern when playing in Honolulu. With it being a Mountain West venue and Fresno St. being a MWC team, it's something else to ponder. And Fresno State did in fact play here this year, beating Hawaii, 31-21, just on November 11. The Bulldogs started the season 1-2 after losing to Alabama and Washington. They then went on a prolonged run of success, winning eight of their next nine games. And they beat some good teams along the way, with a 27-3 road win over a good San Diego State team and the big home win over Boise State. They would have liked to have won the conference title, but when a team comes off a one-win season and makes it to the conference championship, you don't want to get too nit-picky. By any measure, it's been a wonderful season for the Bulldogs under first-year coach Jeff Tedford.

At less than 27 points a game, the Fresno offense isn't great. They're a consistent offense that applies what they do well week-in and week-out. They don't make a lot of mistakes and a lot of different guys get involved. Junior quarterback Marcus McMaryion only threw 4 picks this season on 2384 yards passing, while showing a quick set of feet with 250 yards rushing and a couple touchdowns. On the ground, they are led by a trio of good backs in Jordan Mims, Josh Hokit, and Ronnie Rivers. Those three can also catch passes. Leading the way aerially has been KeeSean Johnson, who has 918 yards receiving this season with 8 touchdowns. Da'Mari Scott, Jamire Jordan, and Jared Rice have also produced in this capacity.

Really helping things come together this season for the Bulldogs has been their defense. After they were exploited in tough games against Nebraska and Washington, they have since allowed a miniscule average of just 11.8 points a game. That's pretty darned good, as they've been tough against the run and the pass, a huge part of how the Bulldogs covered ten spreads this season. They were only one of two teams in the whole FBS to do that this season. They get a good pass-rush from guys like George Helmuth, Robert Stanley, Malik Forrester, and Tobenna Okeke. In the secondary, they get good play from Mike Bell, Juju Hughes, Anthoula Kelly, and Jaron Bryant. We'll see what Houston can come up against this bunch, but it stands out as a definite matchup concern for the Cougars in this bowl-spot.

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Houston started the season belatedly with the flooding in their hometown, scoring a nice road win over Arizona. In a 4-1 start, their only loss was a three-point loss to Texas Tech. A stunning 28-point loss to Tulsa, a game where Houston was a 14-point favorite, was a big setback and they followed that with a home loss to Memphis. A road win over an unbeaten South Florida team pumped some wind into their sails. But another unexpected loss, this time to Tulane in their second to last game, was another bad setback. At least they were able to stabilize their condition with a nice 10-point win over Navy in their last game. But they have been a pretty erratic group, having melted down several times this season without warning, while also playing over their heads at times.

Over the last handful of games, Houston has been going with redshirt freshman D'Eriq King at quarterback. He is an interesting prospect who has also thrived as a back and receiver. He completed nearly 70% of his throws, while only throwing one pick in his starts. He caught 29 balls this season, while running in 8 touchdowns. He also has Duke Catalon, who seems he has been on this team for a decade. He ran in 8 scores, as well. Mulbah Carr and Dillon Birden (questionable) have also been useful on the ground. King also works with a nice one-two punch at receiver with Steven Dunbar and Linnel Bonner (questionable), as the pair has combined for over 1700 yards this season. The offense got a little boost with King behind center and we'll see if they have enough horsepower to compete with a rigid Fresno "D."

The Houston "D" had a couple slip-ups, giving up 87 combined points in their two straight losses to Tulsa and Memphis. Otherwise, they've been pretty solid. Against the pass, they haven't been very strong this season from a stoutness standpoint, but they can make up for it with big plays. Safeties Terrell Williams and Garrett Davis both had four picks this season. Linebackers Matthew Adams and D'Juan Hines have been very effective. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver is a real difference-maker up front. Their high-end shows a "D" that could be big trouble for Fresno. But any version other than a good Houston "D" could be in trouble in this spot.

Making a Hawaii Bowl betting pick is not easy. The Fresno formula for success is not an ironclad one. Their offense doesn't provide a lot of cushion and at this level; winning is going to be a grind. Houston has developed the capacity to provide some fireworks and playmaking on offense better over the last month and is definitely a dangerous opponent for the Bulldogs. I think having been successful in this stadium a short time ago will help Fresno, as knowing how to navigate the travel and all the different temptations in Hawaii is not something that comes easy. It takes a titanic effort to go from a one-win doormat to a division-winner and I see a Bulldogs team that is hungry to finish strong getting the job done in this one.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Fresno State Bulldogs plus 2.5 points. Bet the Fresno State vs. Houston bowl game for FREE by taking advantage of a massive 100% sign-up bonus on your first deposit of $100 to $500 at GTBets!

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