SDSU football will take on Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl

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SDSU football will take on Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl

by Anthony Reclusado, Senior Staff Writer

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With a Mountain West championship and a perfect conference record under their belt, the San Diego State Aztecs will look to cap a historic season off under the tropical Hawaiian sun.

The Aztecs (10-3, 9-0 MW) will take on the Cincinnati Bearcats (7-5, 4-4 American Athletic Conference) in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24 at 5 p.m. PST.

“They’ll probably be pretty happy about going to Hawaii, it’s a nice place to spend a few days,” head coach Rocky Long said. “But more than that, I think everybody’s excited about what happened last night.”

This will be SDSU’s sixth straight bowl appearance and the fifth consecutive under Long. The recently crowned MW champions will head into this match carrying a dominant nine-game winning streak and its first 10-win season since 1977 as an independent team.

“I think it’s as big of a win we’ve had for our program in a lot of years,” Long said of his team’s 27-24 win against Air Force Academy.

On the flip side, the Bearcats will try to salvage a disappointing season with their fifth straight bowl appearance. After being named the heavy favorite to win the American Athletic Conference title in the preseason, Cincinnati finished tied for third in the AAC East Division.

This game in Hawaii might as well be exploring a new frontier to a Bearcat team that has only played west of the Mississippi River five times in the past six years. The furthest Cincinnati has had to travel in that span was in 2010 when it visited Fresno, California, to take on the Fresno State Bulldogs.

However, this matchup could not have played more into what the Aztecs try to do both offensively and defensively.

With a clear identity of running the ball, SDSU will face a defense that struggles to stop the run. The Bearcats allow 190.3 rushing yards per game and struggle to cause negative plays in the opposition’s backfield with only 52 tackles for loss on the season — tied for 118th in the country.

Offensively, Cincinnati looks to air out the ball and has a great tandem in junior quarterback Gunner Kiel and senior wide receiver Shaq Washington that have connected 88 times this season, including six touchdowns.

But with Kiel the Bearcats have lived and died by his playmaking ability as he has thrown for over 2,777 yards and 19 touchdowns in 10 games, but has also thrown 11 interceptions.

On the other side the SDSU defense has feasted on turnovers this season, ranking second in the country in that category with 31 turnovers forced, including 20 interceptions.

Meanwhile, the Bearcat defense is one of the worst at forcing those key miscues, ranking 106th with 16 total forced turnovers, and the Aztecs are ninth in the country in protecting the ball with 12 total turnovers.

SDSU was ruled out of the running for the Las Vegas Bowl when MW Commissioner Craig Thompson said BYU would take the place of a MW team in that bowl game. That means the Aztecs won’t play a Power Five conference team, which is disappointing to some, but isn’t to others.

“A little bit, but not that much,” Long said. “Hold your success in your own hands. If we’d have played better earlier in the season we would be playing one of those clubs.”

This will only be the second matchup between these two teams with their first meeting coming in 2007, when the Bearcats trounced the Aztecs 53-23 in San Diego.

Sports Editor Patrick Carr contributed to this report.

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