Fresno State aims for 10th win in Hawaii Bowl

ESPN logo
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford has rejuvenated the Bulldogs' program, similar to how he made California competitive against the Pac-12 powers.

The Bulldogs, historically a struggling program against major competition, head to the Hawaii Bowl to play a competitive Houston program that has a good track record when facing Power 5 opponents.

Tedford is the coach who gives the Bulldogs (9-4) the confidence they need. He led Cal to eight bowl games, winning a school-record five of them.

Fresno State has the opportunity to win a 10th game in the Dec. 24 contest, which was unfathomable to start the season as Tedford took over a program that went 1-11 last year and fired coach Tim DeRuyter four games before then end of the season. The eight-win difference from last year is the greatest increase in the FBS this year.

Tedford played and coached at Fresno State before returning this season.

"Our approach has been about one game at a time the whole time," he said. "It hasn't been about the number of wins. Not everybody has an opportunity to get double-digit wins. We have the opportunity to do that.

"It's still about one game. Now, because it could be No. 10, will that be nice as far as how history records this 2017 year? Yes. But it's still about one win. It's about one more opportunity for us to play together. It's about a chance to send the seniors out successfully. We're looking at it that way, mainly."

Houston (7-4) is also playing under a new coach, Major Applewhite, who is coaching in his first bowl. Making his task even more challenging, Applewhite will handle the offensive play calling in the Hawaii Bowl.

The Cougars are in search of a new offensive coordinator following the departure of Brian Johnson to Florida. Applewhite does not plan to fill Johnson's spot until after the Hawaii Bowl.

"There's a fine line between waiting too long and there's also a fine line between going too fast," Applewhite said. "There's some good prospects. We just want to take our time."

Applewhite is counting on Houston to continue its strong finish to the regular season. The Cougars won three of their past four games.

They have played two Power 5 opponents this season. They beat Arizona, which will be playing in the Foster Farms Bowl. Their 27-24 loss to Texas Tech in September snapped a streak of victories over Power 5 teams that included Oklahoma, Florida State, Louisville twice and Pitt.

The Cougars have overcome the adversity brought to Houston by Hurricane Harvey in early September. Applewhite mentioned the chance to finish the season in a paradise tropical location such as Hawaii is a fitting way to end the turbulent season that also featured three close losses to Texas Tech, No. 25 Memphis (42-38) and Tulsa (20-17).

"I've been to Hawaii and know the hospitality is first-rate, so they'll have an outstanding time," Applewhite said. "I just told the guys that (there are other teams that) go out there with this goal and, at the end of the year, don't get there. So, don't take anything granted.

"Let's finish strong with our finals. Let's finish strong this semester, and then let's go get ready for a great Fresno State team."

Fresno State has not won a bowl game since 2007, when it beat Georgia Tech 40-28 in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho. Its most recent bowl game did not go well -- a 30-6 loss to Rice in Hawaii in 2014 that dropped the school to 10-13 in bowl games.

Houston is 11-13 in bowls and will be playing in one for the fifth straight year.

The Cougars appear to have fit pieces together on the offensive side of the ball while starting their third quarterback this season in D'Eriq King. King, a sophomore, has been more efficient and less turnover-prone than Kyle Allen or Kyle Postma. He has provided Houston with a dynamic dual threat since making his first start Nov. 4 against East Carolina.

King completed 73 percent of his passes for 832 yards with four touchdowns and one interception and rushed 29 times for 212 yards and five touchdowns. He has 15 pass plays of 20 or more yards, including touchdowns of 61, 62 and 75 yards.

"One of the coaches I worked for said, 'If you're not giving it to people that score, what are you doing?' We are going to continue to feature guys like D'Eriq. He's a very tough player," Applewhite said.

Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver is a 290-pound sophomore who is the Defensive Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference and won the Outland Trophy on Thursday night as the nation's best interior lineman on offense or defense.

Oliver owns 37.5 tackles for loss in 24 career games.

He will try to attack steady Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion, formerly of Oregon State. McMaryion has only four interceptions in 303 passing attempts.