Two teams that ended their regular seasons on a strong note will do battle Dec. 24, as Hawaii tangles with Middle Tennessee in what is essentially a home game for the Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii reeled off back-to-back narrow victories over Fresno State and Massachusetts to secure bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. The Blue Raiders won shootouts over Charlotte and Florida Atlantic to clinch its first eight-win campaign since 2013.
The Rainbow Warriors weren’t assured a bowl berth following their 46-40 victory over the Minutemen, but earned an exemption because not enough teams wound up bowl-eligible. Hawaii is 3-3 all-time in Hawaii Bowl contests, but this will be its first appearance as a member of the Mountain West Conference, which placed seven teams in bowl games this season. This is the first six-win season since 2011 for the Rainbow Warriors, who went 11-39 the previous four seasons.
The Blue Raiders capped a highly successful regular season in style, setting school records in points, offensive yards and touchdowns in a 77-56 slugfest with the Owls. It was a fitting end to the season for a Middle Tennessee team that broke season-long marks with 6,188 total offensive yards, 481 total points and 61 offensive touchdowns. It’s the 10th bowl game in school history, and the Blue Raiders come in with a 3-6 bowl record all-time.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN.
LINE HISTORY: Middle Tennessee opened this game as 4.5-point favorites and were quickly bet all the way to -7, where the number currently sits. The total opened at a high 70 and has been bet up to the current number of 72.5. View the complete line history here.
WEATHER REPORT: The forecast for Christmas Eve at Aloha Stadium is partly sunny skies and temperatures in the low-80’s. There will be 14 mph winds heading west and showers are expected in the evening and might affect the end of the game.
Hawaii – DB Daniel Lewis Jr. (questionable, disciplinary), WR Devan Stubblefield (questionable, undisclosed)
Middle Tennessee – QB John Urzua (questionable, concussion), OL Carlos Johnson (questionable, undisclosed), QB Brent Stockstill (questionable, collarbone), WR Jocquez Bruce (probable, ankle)
ABOUT MIDDLE TENNESSEE (6-7 SU, 5-7 ATS, 8-4 OU): The Blue Raiders appeared to be in peril after star quarterback Brent Stockstill was lost for the season to a broken collarbone in early November – but you wouldn’t know it by looking at a Middle Tennessee offense that plastered the scoreboard for 115 points in the final two games of the season. While the Blue Raiders did the majority of their damage through the air with Stockstill at the helm, they were ruthless on the ground against Florida Atlantic, rushing for 495 yards and nine scores – three each by I’Tavius Mathers, Richie James and Dennis Andrews. Mathers was the pulse of the running game during the season, racking up 1,504 yards and 16 touchdowns on 220 carries.
ABOUT HAWAII (8-4 SU, 6-5-1 ATS, 8-4 OU): The Rainbow Warriors will need to lean heavily on sophomore quarterback Dru Brown, who threw for more than 2,200 yards and 15 touchdowns while adding 283 yards and three scores on the ground. Hawaii’s three-headed rushing tandem of Diocemy Saint Juste (836 yards, three TDs), Paul Harris (537 yards, two TDs) and Steven Lakalaka (415 yards, 12 TDs) will hope to help take the pressure off Brown, who bolstered his final numbers with a five-touchdown effort against UMass. The Rainbow Warriors do have a difference-maker on the defensive side in linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who was awarded All-Mountain West honors after posting a team-leading 118 tackles and seven sacks.
* Rainbow Warriors are 1-6 ATS vs. a team with a winning record.
* Blue Raiders are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 Bowl games.
* Over is 5-0 in Rainbow Warriors last 5 non-conference games.
* Over is 6-1 in Blue Raiders last 7 games overall.
COVERS CONSENSUS: A whopping 79 percent of wagers are on Middle Tennessee. See full consensus date here.