SMU returns to the site of their last bowl appearance 25 years ago, the 1984 Aloha Bowl, to take on the Nevada Wolf Pack on Christmas Eve. SMU's appearance in the Hawaii Bowl is also a homecoming for head coach June Jones who held that position with Hawaii from 1999-2007.
Under Jones' leadership, SMU is the most improved team in the nation from a year ago, going from 1-11 in 2008 to 7-5 this season. The Mustangs tied for the CUSA west division title but lost the tie-breaker to Houston.
Nevada went 8-4 overall this season and was second in the Western Athletic Conference with a 7-1 mark. After starting the season 0-3, the Wolf Pack won eight straight before falling 44-33 to Boise State in their regular season finale.
This is Nevada’s fifth straight bowl appearance and the second time that the Pack has been invited to the Hawai'i Bowl. In 2005, Nevada beat Central Florida in this game, 49-48 in overtime. Nevada has lost its last three bowl games and has an overall bowl record of 3-6, including a victory over North Texas in the 1948 Salad Bowl.
Nevada and SMU have met five times previously, with each of the games taking place earlier this decade when both schools were members of the WAC. The Wolf Pack established a 3-2 advantage in those games from 2000-2004.
Emmanuel Sanders ranks as SMU’s all-time leader in career catches (278), TD catches (33) and yards (3,667),
single-season (91) and single-game (18) receptions, and single-season yardage (1,215). He leads all active NCAA players in career touchdown catches and yardage, and ranks fifth in the nation this year in punt return average.
SMU back Shawnbrey McNeal has rushed for 1,125 yards this season - more than double the yardage that SMU had as a team in 2008 (497).
Overall, SMU ranks just 64th in total offense while Nevada ranks 2nd.
Nevada leads the nation in rushing and is the first school in NCAA history to have three players rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Vai Taua ranks 9th nationally with 122.27 yards per game while accumulating 1,345 yards and 10 TD's. QB Colin Kaepernick is second on the team with 1,160 yards and 16 TD's. Luke Lippincott is Nevada's 3rd-leading rusher 1,034 yards and 9 TD's.
Kaepernick passed for 1,875 yards with 19 TD's and just 5 INT's.
Jones recognizes the difficulty of stopping Nevada. "Their rushing attack will pose a stiff challenge, but we're really looking forward to the game," he said.
This could be a high-scoring affair as SMU ranks 93rd on defense and Nevada ranks 88th.
Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault is in his 25th season at Nevada where he has compiled a 206-95-1 mark.
Jones is in his 2nd season at SMU where he is 8-16, but his career record is now 84-57. He has a 3-1 record in four previous Hawai'i Bowl appearances with Hawaii, and has won his last three.
The Wolf Pack and Mustangs will kick off at 8 p.m. ET at Aloha Stadium and the game will be televised on ESPN.