December 23, 2008

Staying home for bowl more common

MORE: Bowl schedule and coverage

After 206 losses, several near misses and five coaching changes, Vanderbilt earned its way into a bowl game for the first time in 26 years.

Their reward? The Commodores get to stay home.

HAWAII BOWL

Hawaii (7-6)
vs. Notre Dame (6-6)

WHEN: 8 p.m., Dec. 24.
WHERE: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu.
TV: ESPN (Dave Pasch will do play-by-play, with Andre Ware as the analyst).
THE LINE: Notre Dame by 1.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Hawaii 3-4, Notre Dame 1-5
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Hawaii 51st, Notre Dame T-82nd.
BCS RANKINGS: N/A for both.
COACHES: Hawaii Greg McMackin (first bowl); Notre Dame Charlie Weis (0-2 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Has it come to the point where Hawaii has surpassed Notre Dame as a college football power? This game may answer the question. Notre Dame is trying to end a nine-game bowl losing streak.
KEY STATS: The Warriors and Irish have both been subject to turnovers. Hawaii has lost 35 turnovers, which ranks 117th in the country. Notre Dame has lost 28 turnovers, which ranks tied for 101st.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen has been inconsistent this season. He has thrown eight touchdown passes in the Irish's six losses. In addition, 10 of his 17 interceptions have come in the losses. He also has passed for at least 275 yards in four games. He can expect to face multiple blitzes, and how he responds will be the key to the outcome.
Funny, but isn't that what happened all those seasons when they fell short?

Vanderbilt is one of eight teams playing bowl games in their home towns - or at least in the general area.

Staying at home obviously offers some advantages. In the past five seasons, teams playing bowls in their home cities are 9-5. Hawaii, playing in its home stadium in the Hawaii Bowl on Wednesday, has won three times in Aloha Stadium during the span.

Traveling usually to warmer climates is part of the allure of bowl games. Therefore, some teams might feel like they've gotten the short end when their bowl experience is just a glorified home game.

Don't count Vanderbilt among them. At least, that's the message sent by linebacker Patrick Benoist, who said the Commodores are pumped up about the chance to face Boston College in Nashville's Music City Bowl.

"I don't think it lessens anything," Benoist said. "We're excited to play in Nashville. We haven't been to a bowl in a long time, and that was our major goal. It's great to play in our hometown. We have a lot of people following us."

Benoist said the Vandy players would rather focus on the advantages.

"In practice, we get to use our own facilities, the film rooms," he said. "We know the area and the town."

Perhaps players in a program that has been on the outside looking in for more than a quarter-century are just glad to play in any bowl game anywhere. And maybe players who already have been on a bowl trip would feel differently. But that might depend on the bowl.

Rice, which last season played in the New Orleans Bowl, will remain in Houston to face Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl. Reliant Stadium is a short drive from the Rice campus, but Owls All-America receiver Jarrett Dillard said that was better than the Owls' other options.

"Of the cities that we were in line to go to, there were Mobile, Ala., [for the GMAC Bowl] and Houston," Dillard said. "A lot of guys want to play someplace where you know the attractions and sights.

"Now, if we'd been offered the Hawaii Bowl, then, yeah, we'll go to Hawaii."

No such luck.

Hawaii is playing in the Hawaii Bowl against Notre Dame, which has lost nine consecutive bowl appearances. Hawaii, on the other hand, has that three-game winning streak in bowl games at Aloha Stadium, which is its home field.

The Warriors are the only bowl team playing on their home field this season.

Who has the edge?

Notre Dame run offense vs. Hawaii run defense
The Irish haven't run well since Darius Walker left. Leading rusher Armando Allen has gained 576 yards but only exceeded 100 yards in one game. The line is the problem. Hawaii is mediocre against the run. Five bowl teams that Hawaii faced rushed for at least 191 yards against the Warriors.
Edge: Even.

Notre Dame pass offense vs. Hawaii pass defense
Freshman WR Michael Floyd, who missed three games with a knee injury, is expected to play. That is a big plus for Notre Dame. The Irish averaged 110 more passing yards when Floyd was in the lineup. Sophomore Golden Tate is a deep threat who averaged 17.4 yards on 52 catches. Clausen's inconsistency is a point of concern. Hawaii is so-so in pass coverage, having allowed 22 touchdowns but also grabbing 15 interceptions. Keao Monteilh has five of them. The Warriors have a strong rush. They have 34 sacks, and end David Veikune has nine.
Edge: Notre Dame.

HOME COOKING
Here's a list of this season's bowl teams who are playing close to home:
Team (campus) Bowl (site)Miles to travel
California (Berkeley)Emerald (San Francisco)15
Georgia Tech (Atlanta)Chick-fil-A (Atlanta)N/A
Hawaii (Honolulu)Hawaii (Honolulu)N/A
Navy (Annapolis, Md.)EagleBank (Washington)28
Rice (Houston)Texas (Houston)N/A
USC (Los Angeles)Rose (Los Angeles)N/A
South Florida (Tampa, Fla.)St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg, Fla.)17
Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn.)Music City (Nashville, Tenn.)N/A
(NOTE: Louisiana Tech, which has its campus in Ruston, is playing in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., which is about 65 miles from Ruston.)
Hawaii run offense vs. Notre Dame run defense
The Warriors don't run well. They rushed for less than 100 yards in seven games and rank 108th in the nation in rush offense. Daniel Libre leads with 431 yards. Notre Dame allows an average of 142.7 rushing yards per game. The Irish surrendered seven rushing touchdowns in their last three regular-season games.
Edge: Notre Dame.

Hawaii pass offense vs. Notre Dame pass defense
QB Greg Alexander threw for at least 264 yards in each of the last four regular-season games and had nine touchdown passes in that span. Four players have more than 30 catches. Over the past eight games, the Irish have allowed an average of 151.6 passing yards per game, which ranks second in the nation in that span. But the pass rush isn't too productive.
Edge: Hawaii.

Notre Dame special teams vs. Hawaii special teams Hawaii's Ryan Mouton and Malcolm Lane are threats on kickoff returns, but Notre Dame's kickoff coverage team ranks first in the nation. Notre Dame kicker Brandon Walker has converted just 14 of 24 attempts, but Hawaii's Dan Kelly has hit just 10 of 25.
Edge: Notre Dame.

Notre Dame coaches vs. Hawaii coaches
Charlie Weis has become a target for criticism, especially after a loss to Syracuse. But he still has a 28-21 record in four seasons in South Bend. Hawaii's Greg McMackin has done an admirable job in his first season. Although Hawaii was 12-1 last season, all of the offensive stars from the team are gone, most notably QB Colt Brennan. But Hawaii had a good season anyway.
Edge: Notre Dame.

X-factor: Hawaii is 1-3 against "Big Six'' teams, a group of which Notre Dame is included. The only victory was over woeful Washington State, so there is some question about the Warriors' strength. On the other side of the coin, Notre Dame is 1-4 on its opponent's home field and the Hawaii Bowl is a home game for the Warriors.

Notre Dame will win if: The Irish need a solid performance from Clausen and some success in the running game. They took the lead into the fourth quarter against North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, but couldn't hold it. Running difficulties were at least partially responsible.

Hawaii will win if: The Warriors must force the Irish to be one-dimensional, then get pressure on Clausen. Avoiding turnovers also will be a big factor.

The picks
Olin Buchanan: Notre Dame 27, Hawaii 21.
Mike Huguenin: Hawaii 24, Notre Dame 21.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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