Rocky Long has quietly built San Diego State into a Mountain West powerhouse. Now, the only thing that's keeping him from the first 11-win Aztec season since 1969 is Cincinnati.
Those two teams will meet in paradise at the 2015 Hawaii Bowl. The Mountain West Champion Aztecs are currently one of college football's hottest teams. They've won nine straight games, all against conference opponents, after a rough 1-3 start to the season. That stretch included five victories over bowl eligible teams.
Cincinnati has had more of a roller coaster run en route to a 7-5 season. They've only won back-to-back games once this season, and that came against a middling UConn team and a Central Florida program that may have been the worst in the nation in 2015. Though the Bearcats were able to record a surprising 34-23 win over Miami (FL) early in the year, their next-best win came over either UConn, 6-6 Tulsa or 5-7 East Carolina. They'll have to topple San Diego State to prove that their success wasn't just a product of a middling schedule.
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN, Adam Amin and Greg McElroy will have the call.
Radio: San Diego State, Cincinnati
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Spread: Cincinnati is favored by 1 point.
Make friends: Get to SB Nation’s team blog chats for this game at Down the Drive (for Cincinnati fans) and Mountain West Connection (for San Diego State fans).
Three big things to know
1. Bearcat quarterback Gunner Kiel won't be playing in the Hawaii Bowl due to a personal matter, which will leave the game in the hands of backup Hayden Moore. Cincinnati has been in this situation before. They turned to Moore for meaningful action in six different games this season, and the freshman went 3-3 as the team's primary QB. That includes a 557-yard, four touchdown performance against Memphis, but he failed to crack the 300-yard mark or pass for more than two scores in any of his appearances since.
2. San Diego State allowed fewer than 18 points per game this fall, ranking 10th in the FBS in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. They're led by junior linebacker Calvin Munson and defensive lineman Alex Barrett, who have combined for 27.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, three interceptions and four forced fumbles this season. Expect those two to create plenty of havoc for Moore and the Cincinnati offensive line on Christmas Eve.
3. The oddsmakers have made Cincinnati a 1-point favorite, but the advanced stats are predicting a swing in San Diego State's favor. S&P+ has the Aztecs as a 33-27 victor in Honolulu thanks to SDSU's defensive advantages.