Honolulu, HI (SportsNetwork.com) - College football celebrates Christmas Eve in the South Pacific as the Boise State Broncos and the Oregon State Beavers meet in Honolulu to compete in the annual Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium.
Boise State, one of the most successful Football Bowl Subdivision teams of the last decade, is entering a new era with the departure of head coach Chris Petersen. Long rumored to many openings at more prestigious schools, Petersen finally took the leap earlier this month when he accepted the head coaching position at Washington.
For the time being, the Broncos will be guided by assistant coach Bob Gregory on an interim basis, with former assistant and player Bryan Harsin coming on full time following this particular outing.
"I'm honored to represent Boise State University and Bronco Football in our bowl game," Gregory said. "We have a great process in place, and we will continue to follow that process. We look forward to our bowl preparations knowing that our players will be excited and will play with great energy."
The Broncos kicked off the 2013 campaign with a 38-6 loss to Washington on the road and then proceeded to drop three more contests to the likes of Fresno State (41-40), BYU (37-20) and San Diego State (34-31) also on the road. The squad finished the regular season with a 45-17 romp over New Mexico to produce an 8-4 record overall and a 6-2 mark in the Mountain West, but still it was a far cry from expectations for a team that has been so dominant in recent years.
As for the Beavers, the team should have known there was trouble brewing when they fell to Eastern Washington in the opener at the end of August by a score of 49-46. Granted, head coach Mike Riley was able to right the ship for a time as the team posted six straight victories after that, but then it fell apart near the end of October.
Starting with a 20-12 loss to Stanford at home, Oregon State began a wild free fall that saw the Beavers drop five straight decisions down the stretch, although they did make things interesting in their annual in-state battle with Oregon on the road in a 36-35 setback on Nov. 29.
At 6-6 overall, 4-5 in Pac-12 play, the Beavers barely made themselves bowl eligible.
"I am thrilled that our football team has an opportunity to play another game at an exciting destination against an outstanding opponent in Boise State," Riley said. "The Sheraton Hawaii Bowl has a great tradition and we are excited to bring our team, which features several natives of the great State of Hawaii, to represent the Pac-12 Conference."
Oregon State has a bowl history that traces back to the 1940 Pineapple Bowl, a 39-6 win over Hawaii, leading up to a 31-27 loss to Texas in the 2012 Alamo Bowl. The program is 10-6 in the postseason, with the most recent victory coming in a 3-0 final versus Pittsburgh in the 2008 Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve.
The Broncos are making their 12th straight bowl appearance, tied for the seventh-longest active streak in the country. The team has an impressive 9-4 mark in the postseason, beginning with a 34-31 win over Louisville in the Humanitarian Bowl in 1999. Last season the team played in the Las Vegas Bowl for the third straight year and dismissed Washington, 28-26. The Broncos have won four straight postseason appearances and are playing a current member of the Pac-12 for the fourth straight time in bowl competition.
As far as the all-time series is concerned, OSU owns a 4-3 advantage although the Broncos have won each of the last two battles and are 3-2 since the program was elevated to FBS status in 1996. The most recent meeting took place in 2010 with BSU capturing a 37-24 win. The last victory for the Beavers was a narrow 30-27 triumph on Sept. 10, 2005.
The Boise State offense, one that has been so potent for so many years, was thrown a curve ball this season when starting quarterback Joe Southwick went down with an injury, requiring Grant Hedrick to step in to guide the offense in the middle of October. However, Southwick did return to make an appearance on Senior Day versus New Mexico, but only for the first drive. That being said, there is still potential for Southwick, the nation's active career leader in completion percentage (.694), to again make an appearance in the final game of the season.
No matter which quarterback is making the calls in the huddle, the fact remains that BSU ranks 24th in the country in total offense with 470.8 ypg and is tied for 16th with 38.8 ppg. Helping the offense along has been Matt Miller with his 77 catches for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns and while Shane Williams- Rhodes had the same number of receptions, his resulted in 702 yards and six scores, although the latter is questionable for this outing with a leg injury.
On the ground the Broncos take advantage of Jay Ajayi exploits, the running back coming up with 1,328 yards and 17 scores on 226 carries, although he does have a propensity for putting the ball on the carpet.
Defensively, the star for the Broncos is Demarcus Lawrence with his 67 tackles, tied for second on the team, of which 19.5 have come behind the line of scrimmage. Lawrence also led the program with 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
Lawrence plans to be chasing down quarterback Sean Mannion, the first signal caller in OSU history to throw for at least 350 yards in six consecutive outings. Mannion has had some huge games for the Beavers, from his 414 yards and school-record six touchdowns against Colorado, to a school-record 493 passing yards versus Washington State. He's already set the OSU single-season record for passing yards with 4,403 through 12 games and is one of the top performers in that department in the nation.
Making Mannion look so great this season has been Brandin Cooks, responsible for a staggering 120 receptions for 1,670 yards and 15 touchdowns. Cooks leads the nation with 139.2 ypg receiving and his overall yardage total is also tops in the country. Cooks was rewarded for his production with the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation's top receiver.
Obviously, with Mannion slinging the ball all over the field the Beavers are willing to sacrifice their running attack, to the point where they are ranked 118th in the nation with a mere 86.0 ypg.
More concerned with offense, Oregon State is 94th nationally in total defense, permitting 428.2 ypg, resulting in a hefty 32.1 ppg (95th). The squad is particularly vulnerable in the red zone where it has allowed opponents to score 93.2 percent of the time, ranking a disappointing 120th in the country.
However, the Beavers do have some standout performers on the defensive side of the ball in Steven Nelson and Rashaad Reynolds, both of whom have six interceptions, while Scott Crichton forces the issue at the line of scrimmage, coming up with 16.0 TFL and 6.5 sacks, both of which pace the Beavers through 12 games.