The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque usually hosts the New Mexico Bowl, but local COVID protocols prompted a move to Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas this year. The trip is under 300 miles north for the Houston Cougars while the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors will be playing their first bowl game in the mainland since 2008.
Houston has lost three of their last four games after their 30-27 loss at Memphis as a 7-point favorite on December 12th. The Cougars allowed an 85-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown that overcame their 109 net yardage edge in that game.
Houston has dealt with eight games this season either canceled, postponed, or rescheduled because of COVID issues. They will be playing just their second game since November 14th as they look to even their record at 4-4. The Cougars opened their season on October 8th with wins against Tulane and at Navy in their first three games but have only beaten South Florida since.
Junior quarterback Clayton Tune completed 30 of 49 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the loss. He is completing 60.7% of his passes for 1832 yards with 13 touchdown passes, along with seven interceptions. He has added 269 rushing yards with five touchdowns on a 4.3 yards-per-carry average.
Hawai’i has won two of their last three games after their 38-12 win over UNLV on December 12th. Chris Cordeiro completed 20 of 33 passes for 252 yards while adding another 88 rushing yards with a touchdown. The sophomore quarterback is completing 62.1% of his passes for 1947 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has rushed for 450 yards with seven touchdowns.
The Rainbow Warriors are 4-4 on the season with upset victories against Fresno State and Nevada. This contest will be their first game away from home since November 14th.
Both of these teams are dealing with opt-outs. The Rainbow Warriors will not have the services of running back Miles Reed, who decided to transfer after the win over UNLV. The junior has rushed for 346 yards on 82 carries this season.
Houston has lost three of their top starters for this game. Wide receiver Marquez Stevenson decided not to play to focus on the Senior Bowl and the NFL draft. The two-time American Athletic Conference first-teamer has 20 catches of 307 yards with four touchdowns this season. On defense, both linebacker Grant Stuard and defensive end Payton Turner have opted-out of this game to prepare for the NFL draft. Stuard led the conference with 8.7 tackles-per-game this season, while Turner led the team with 5.0 sacks.
Houston did not play in a bowl game last year in the first year under head coach Dana Holgorsen after playing in five straight bowl games. Hawai’i is playing in their third bowl game in a row after defeating BYU in their familiar Hawai’i Bowl spot last year by a 38-34 score.
Houston is a 9.5-point favorite, with the total set at 59.5 at BookMaker
. ESPN has the broadcast at 3:30 PM ET.