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Major Wager Bowl Preview Series: Hawaii Bowl (Bowl #7)...By S.H. Austin

HAWAII BOWL (Honolulu)
12/24, 8 p.m. ET ESPN

Hawaii by 8 points, total of 74

Arizona State: 7-5
Hawaii: 10-3
This was one of the better Hawaii teams in recent memory. They've always had a penchant for running up the score on patsies. This year, it just got ridiculous. They scored more than 60 points in four out of five weeks during a nice stretch in the middle of the season. This caused people to lift Hawaii to ridiculous levels in the power ratings though. Not sure if Vegas oddsmakers were doing this too, or if it was because the public was betting off their own errors. Either way, Hawaii was a nonsensical 20-point favorite in a 42-35 win over Purdue, and an overpriced 7-point favorite in a 35-32 loss to Oregon State in their last two games of the season. Blowing out patsies doesn't mean you can steamroll bowl caliber teams from major conferences. Hawaii was a top three mid-major team, but not a top 30 "real" team. Arizona State was supposed to be a top 25 power for the second straight year, but they finished 7-5 for the second straight year. It could have been 6-6, but they won an overtime game.

We could talk about this game in a few different categories. We'll just talk about it here and abbreviate comments in some of the other categories. Arizona State is what can happen when a mid major "genius" moves to a major conference. Dirk Koetter was the first guy at Boise State to get that mid major juggernaut in gear. The media was touting the BSU approach as the "future" of football because it was supposedly impossible for defenses to figure out. Instead of saying "this is a gimmick offense that overmatches slow footed undersized patsies," the media crowned Koetter as the next big thing. Arizona State was sure the next big thing would put them over the top in the Pac 10. Instead, they made a habit of running up the score on slow footed undersized opponents (non-conference foes and the bottom of the Pac 10), but couldn't match up well at all versus good teams.

Gimmick offenses either score quickly or turn the ball over quickly. This wears out that team's defense over the course of the season because they play shootouts. You can get away with that in Boise or Hawaii because of the softer schedules, and because opponents will make a zillion turnovers trying to keep up with you. In a real conference, you become the team making turnovers because you're facing real defenses. And, your own defense gets bulldozed after a while.

Koetter was let go after this season, his fifth with the program. ASU never did figure out how to play consistently well versus top competition. This year they lost at California 49-21, at home to Oregon 48-13, and at Oregon State 44-10 the week OSU should have been flat as a pancake after upsetting USC.

This is what happens when a major conference team tries to win with a wide open mid-major style. Hey, Arizona State would have won the WAC. So what? Boise State wouldn't have won the Pac 10 during Koetter's tenure there, or now. It's kind of silly to put Boise high up in the polls or BCS rankings just because they topped Hawaii in the battle to become best patsy obliterator. And it's silly to think a mid major gimmick offense will lead to a season full of shootout victories in a real league.

Is Urban Meyer a counter-example? Urban Meyer teams play defense. And, Urban Meyer's offenses have not been lighting up the scoreboard in Florida, except for occasional blips.

Oh, last year's ASU team ranked 2nd in the nation in total offense, but 114th in total defense. Hawaii ranked 11th in the nation in total offense, but 102nd in total defense. That style just isn't going to get you 10 wins in a real conference. It will be interesting to see how these similar styles match up in a bowl. Dennis Erickson will be installing a new system next year for ASU.

Arizona State: 27-24 versus the 9th ranked schedule
Hawaii: 47-24 versus the 101st ranked schedule
We mentioned in a prior bowl that the Pac 10 has the 10 best "strength of schedule" marks in the USA Today computer rankings. We don't buy it. But, it's obvious that ASU played a tougher schedule than Hawaii did, however you slice it. And it's obvious that both teams run up the score versus bad teams, and underachieve versus good teams. You trade schedules, ASU suddenly looks like the juggernaut.

Arizona State: 7-4 versus the spread
Hawaii: 8-4 versus the spread
It took the oddsmakers awhile to catch up with Hawaii's new and improved blowout tendencies this year. Hawaii was 8-2 ATS through 10 board games, and the two non-covers were backdoor spread losses when opponents scored very late. As stated earlier, the lines were way too high for Purdue and Oregon State. Arizona State was 3-0 ATS as a double digit favorite (typical for that style of play), and 4-4 ATS versus everyone else. We listed some of their bad blowout losses earlier. Those scores probably paint too bleak a picture. The team did have some good outings, and hung tough at USC in a 28-21 loss.

Arizona State: +66.7, with a season turnover differential of -1
Hawaii: +173.1, with a season turnover differential of +1
Hawaii lost the turnover battle 10-4 versus bowl caliber opponents Alabama, Boise State, Purdue, and Oregon State. The numbers above underestimate their turnover issues versus decent teams. The fact that Arizona State could be near even against a much tougher schedule speaks very well for their offense. It was an ugly category in the first month. The Sun Devils cleaned things up, losing the ball just 10 times in their last eight games. At first glance, the numbers in this section would suggest Hawaii is the much better side. We think the numbers are extremely polluted. Hawaii posts huge yardage when they play bad teams. Arizona State would too, but they didn't get to play many bad teams. In context, the ASU turnover differential represents the much better performance.

Arizona State: 21-14, which is much lower than expected preseason
Hawaii: 57-11, yes, those are the actual numbers
Hawaii's astounding ratio represents a harmonic convergence of the right kind offense led by the right kind of quarterback against the right kind of schedule. Just remember that it's not real football. It's a steroid slugger hitting 80 home runs playing at altitude for the Colorado Rockies in major league baseball.

We've talked a lot about this already. No need to rehash it here. We will say that ASU has more athleticism because they're recruiting for a major conference program. This will show up at the point of attack for them.

Arizona State played Nevada early in the season. That's not a great match for Hawaii, but it's as close as you'll get with this year's schedule. ASU won 52-21 as a 14-point favorite. Hawaii beat the same team 41-34 as a 9-point favorite.

Hawaii played Purdue, who's kind of similar to ASU in that the Boilermakers try to win in a major conference with a mid-major style passing attack. Purdue has a better defense, though. Hawaii had to score the last two TD's of the game to win 42-35. We're coming across a bunch of things here that seem to point to the dog. Let's remember that ASU got annihilated by Oregon State, and Oregon State played a nailbiter on this field. ASU is capable of winning this game. They're also capable of getting waxed!

Arizona State was hoping for bigger things at the start of the season, and is now dealing with a change at head coach. You can't really expect peak intensity, all things considered.
Hawaii is playing in its own bowl for the fourth straight time. How exciting can that be? It should be noted that they weren't bowl eligible last year, so it's the first bowl game for many of the key starters. Still, it's a home game that has to feel like Purdue and Oregon State in terms of preparation. Nothing special here either.

Arizona State (-9) beat Rutgers 45-40, winning yardage 679-532
Hawaii didn't play

Arizona State has played in five early bowl games since 1999. The underdog has covered all five games. That's typical for these early bowls. Arizona State did give 18-point favorite Kansas State a thrill in a 34-27 Holiday Bowl loss back in 2002.

Hawaii is 1-2 ATS this century, all in home bowls. They lost to Tulane 36-28 as a 14-point favorite, the beat Houston 54-48 in overtime as a 10-point favorite, then they beat UAB 59-40 as a 4-point favorite. Clearly the defensive play was ridiculous, even against mid-major opposition. They're playing a team from a better conference this year.

It's all going to depend on Arizona State's attitude and preparation. If they show up, then the line is way too high. They play almost the same exact style that Hawaii does. But, they do it with better athletes, more physicality, a more powerful running game, and fewer turnovers against the caliber of opponent they'll be facing today. There's no reason this can't be a replay of the Hawaii-Purdue game that was 35-all very late, or the Hawaii-Oregon State game that ended 35-32. Though, because it's Arizona State, instead those scores might be 45-all or 45-42.

If they don't show up because its not what they were hoping for, or because the coaching saga was a distraction, then they'll be playing "chase the rainbow" all night long.

I'd rate the percentages this way:

55%: Arizona State shows up and covers in a shootout. They did show up for their season finale against Arizona, a 28-14 victory. There's the potential for a garbage time cover as well if they "mostly" show up for the game.

45%: Arizona State doesn't show up and Hawaii pops a 42-21 kind of game on them, or 55-30 with some defensive or special teams points.

What about the total? Vegas has posted a very high number already. It's easy to imagine a shootout flying Over. But, you know...35-33 or 38-35 doesn't get there. You don't want to bet Over 74 if one of the teams is going to be flat. Taking the Over is already taking Arizona State to a degree. Arizona State's critical number is 33 points. If they can reach that threshold, then ASU and Over can't go 0-2. You'd have to think that's manageable, particularly when you look at Hawaii's recent bowl history. Do you want to risk two separate propositions that ASU won't be flat?

Lean ASU, lean Over, with ASU seeming to have slightly more in its favor.

S.H. Austin

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