Cincinnati vs. San Diego State Prediction, Hawaii Bowl Preview

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    December 17, 2015

    It’s a big moment for the Mountain West as its champion, San Diego State (10-3), takes on an American Athletic also-ran in Cincinnati (7-5). It’s offense vs. defense with the high-powered Bearcats trying to get moving against the nasty Aztec defense. Check out the Cincinnati vs. San Diego State prediction and Hawaii Bowl game preview. 

    Cincinnati vs. San Diego State Game Preview


    Date: Thursday, December 24

    Game Time: 8:00 pm ET
    Network: ESPN
    Venue: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI
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    Why You Need To Care

    It’s like the American Athletic Conference had a party this year, and Cincinnati lost its invite.

    It was a solid season for Tommy Tuberville’s team with a win over Miami and ending with a trip to Hawaii, but America was paying attention to Temple, Memphis, Navy, and Houston, while the Bearcats lost just enough key games to get knocked out of the fun. Cincinnati was supposed to be front-and-center in the race for a New Year’s Six bowl, but a win over the Mountain West champion and an eight-win campaign would be strong.

    With the nation’s fifth-best offense, this is a fun and exciting team that wings the ball all over the yard, and now the O has to be enough to give the program its first bowl win since getting by Duke in the 2012 Belk. Cincinnati has lost four of its last six bowl games, but San Diego State has lost three of its last four.

    The pressure is on for the Aztecs considering their the standard-bearers for an entire league. Last year’s Mountain West champion – Boise State – won the Fiesta Bowl, and now after a great year for the conference with lots of solid teams and too many bowl eligible squads, the star needs to show up.

    With the nation’s fifth-best defense and 15th-best running game, this is a hard-nosed team on a nine-game winning streak after starting out 1-3, rolling through the conference schedule unbeaten and stopping Air Force 27-24 for the title. Head coach Rocky Long has his best team yet in San Diego, but going back to his New Mexico days he’s 2-7 in bowl games. His first ten-win season in his 16 years as a head coach, a loss wouldn’t ruin the season, but a win would make it truly special.

    Why Cincinnati Will Win

    If the offense works, there won’t be much San Diego State can do about it.

    The Aztec pass defense has been special, allowing just 177 yards per game with 20 interceptions and just 14 touchdowns allowed. Early on there was a problem against the quarterbacks who could throw – Cal’s Jared Goff threw for 321 yards and three scores, and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg threw for 328 yards and three scores, but that was about it for the passers on the schedule. The overall stats aren’t totally misleading, but … they’re a bit misleading.

    Quarterbacks Gunner Kiel and Hayden Moore combined to help the Bearcats throw for 260 yards or more in every game but the loss to BYU. Kiel is out – more on that in a moment – but Moore is going to put the pressure on the SDSU defense from the start, and if he can get the Bearcats up early, the Aztec offense will have to press, and it won’t be able to do too much. For the most part, this is a front-running SDSU offense that needs to run well and hope for the defense to take care of everything else. It’s not built for comebacks.

    Why San Diego State Will Win

    Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.

    No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin, San Diego State has turned it over just 12 times all season long going giveaway-free in five of the final seven games. On the other side, the defense has come up with 31 takeaways with three or more in seven games. This year, SDSU is 8-0 when forcing two turnovers or more, while Cincinnati is 124th in the nation in turnover margin giving it up 30 times with two giveaways or more seven times. Expect the Aztecs to be a +2, at least.

    Offensively, the Aztecs should be able to run wild on a Cincinnati defense that’s allowed 200 yards or more six times on the year and should get rumbled over for long, sustained drives. This should be a good fit for the SDSU style – run, control the clock, rely on the defense, win the turnover battle. That led to a Mountain West title, and it should work in Hawaii.

    Player Who Matters

    Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel came up with a huge second half of the season after overcoming a scary-looking neck injury, and now, just when it seemed like he’d be ready to make a big splash to close things out. He’s not making the trip to Hawaii because of a “personal matter,” meaning it’s up to freshman Hayden Moore to take back the reins after going a killer job when he got his chances early on.

    Moore threw for 557 yards and four scores in the shootout loss to Memphis, and he’s a good bomber who’ll push the ball down the field, but he also gives up way too many interceptions with eight on the year in 195 passes. This could be his national breakout moment – at least when people are watching – but he has to keep the mistakes to a minimum.

    Cincinnati can’t really stop the run, and now it’s about to get hit with the speed and quickness of Donnel Pumphrey, a 5-9, 180-pound 100-yard machine who might be off to the NFL a year early after this. He wasn’t used enough against Air Force, but he still averaged 5.6 yards per carry with 90 yards in the Mountain West title win. Before that, he cranked out 100 yards or more in nine of his previous ten games as the key part to the whole puzzle. He’s fast enough to hit the home run, and tough enough to handle the ball 30 times if he has to. In a game like this, he’s going to be fed the ball over and over and over again.

    What’s Going To Happen?

    The good people of the Hawaii Bowl are overdue for a good game. The bowl has been awful five of the last six times, with the Mountain West getting tagged in each of the last seven. This time around, the league will get it done with the San Diego State defense rising up and overcoming a big day from Moore and the passing game to hold on late. This is the right team for San Diego State to play, especially with Kiel out, and it’ll look the part with a good all-around performance and the 11th win for the program.

    Hawaii Bowl Prediction

    Prediction: San Diego State 30, Cincinnati 24, Line: PICK, o/u: 56.5
    Must See Rating: 5: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – 1: Property Brothers at Home on the Ranch … 3

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