D'Eriq King will lead the Cougars in the Hawaii Bowl against Fresno State.
D'Eriq King will lead the Cougars in the Hawaii Bowl against Fresno State.
Photo by Jack Gorman

Cougars Hawaii Bound for a Bowl Against Fresno State

It will not be a White Christmas for the Houston Cougars. The football team instead heads out to Hawaii to play Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl at 7:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. This will be only the third time the Cougars (7-4) have played a game in Hawaii, and it will be the first ever meeting between the Cougars and Fresno State. The Bulldogs finished their regular season with a 9-4 record after losing to Boise State on Saturday in the Mountain West Conference title game.

The Cougars' previous trips to Hawaii were also for bowl games. The Cougars lost to Washington State 24-22 in the 1988 Aloha Bowl. The Cougars also lost a 54-48 triple overtime thriller to Hawaii in the 2003 Hawaii Bowl. But the Cougars of 2017 have played their best games this season when playing good teams, so if UH follows the pattern from this season, then a victory should be in store.

This continues a strong string of bowl games for the Cougars. It’s the team’s 11th bowl appearance in 13 seasons, and it is Houston’s fifth straight bowl game. That five straight bowl games number is the second longest streak among all of the teams in the American Conference. This is the 26th bowl appearance in Houston history.

The shock is Fresno State being in a bowl game. The Bulldogs finished 1-11 last year. Former Cal coach Jeff Tedford was brought into rejuvenate the program. But there’s rejuvenating and there’s getting to nine wins and playing for a conference title. The Fresno State offense can struggle to score points, so it relies on a strong defense that is known for its ability to limit big passing plays.

The Cougars also feature a strong defensive unit, led by Ed Oliver. And the Cougars also feature an offense that has, at times, struggled to score points this season. The offense improved as the season went on, especially after D’Eriq King was made the starting quarterback. King brings the playing style of former UH quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. to the UH offense, so he is able to make things happen with his ability to escape defenders in the pocket, and with his ability to tuck the ball away and run for big yards.

This is a good game for the Cougars to play. The Hawaii Bowl will be the only bowl game played on Christmas Eve. That should bring the program a few more eyeballs than they would have received if playing in the Frisco or Birmingham Bowl. And though players will spend a lot of time practicing — because coaches love practicing — it’s a football game being played in a location many think of as paradise.

Players often have to participate in bowl week activities such as dinners and sightseeing. So it seems that sightseeing around the Hawaiian islands and going to luaus has to be better than anything that could be offered by the Dallas metroplex.

The Hawaii Bowl is a difficult game for fans, however. It’s an expensive trip, and it’s disruptive for family Christmas plans. Thus fans have to find some way to get the entire family to the islands for the holiday, or catch a flight back on Christmas Eve and hope to get back in time to celebrate a bit on Christmas Day. Or else fans figure out some way to afford the cost of staying out a few more days and celebrating Christmas there.

It is a bowl game that some teams have been hesitant about playing. It’s a long distance trip. And there are usually lots of empty seats in the stadium because fan bases can’t afford to make the trip. But the game is run by ESPN, so the number of viewers on ESPN is more important than the number of fans in the stands.

So a year after playing a bowl game in Las Vegas, two years after playing a bowl game in Atlanta, the Cougars are off to Hawaii. Hawaii might not be one of the major bowl game destinations, and it might not be a bowl game, but if you have to travel for a bowl game, who wouldn’t want to go to Hawaii when one of the other options was the Dallas metroplex?

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