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Hawaii Bowl Prediction and Preview: Hawaii vs. BYU

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Hawaii Bowl Prediction and Preview: Hawaii vs. BYU

Hawaii Bowl Prediction and Preview: Hawaii vs. BYU

Two former WAC rivals will clash for the first time in the postseason when Hawaii and BYU face off in the SoFi Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.

The Rainbow Warriors (9-5) have a shot at securing their first 10-win season since 2010. They are appearing in the Hawaii Bowl for the third time in four years. It is Hawaii's ninth appearance in the bowl game overall. The Rainbow Warriors have just one victory in their last five bowl appearances – beating Middle Tennessee in the 2016 Hawaii Bowl during head coach Nick Rolovich's debut season.

The Cougars (7-5) locked up a bowl berth after winning five of their final six games to bounce back from a 2-4 start. BYU has reached a bowl game 14 of the last 15 seasons. The Cougars are 2-0 in bowl games under head coach Kalani Sitake and are 6-2 overall against former conference opponents in the postseason.

BYU holds a 23-8 lead in the series with Hawaii. The Cougars have not lost to the Rainbow Warriors since falling 72-45 in 2001 to suffer their first defeat following a 12-0 start. Overall, they have won five straight in the series and 11 of the last 12.

SoFi Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii (9-5) vs. BYU (7-5)

Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Aloha Stadium (Honolulu)

TV: ESPN

Spread: BYU -2

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When Hawaii Has the Ball

Unpredictable adventure characterizes how the Rainbow Warriors operate on offense. Hawaii puts points on the scoreboard and coughs up turnovers at a seemingly equal rate. No FBS team has given the ball away at a higher rate than Hawaii's 30 turnovers over 14 games. The Rainbow Warriors have a minus-14 turnover margin, which ranks 127th out of 130 teams. If Hawaii can limit mistakes against BYU, the Rainbow Warriors will be a tough team to stop.

It starts with a high flying run-and-shoot attack powered by quarterback Cole McDonald. The junior lit up defenses during the regular season for 3,642 yards and 29 touchdowns. He has had three 300-yard games and two 400-yard games this fall. Four of those performances came at home and Hawaii went 4-1 in those contests. Cedric Byrd II, McDonald's favorite target, tallied 1,068 yards and 10 touchdowns on 95 catches during the regular season. Byrd is far from the only threat. Jared Smart, JoJo Ward, and Jason-Matthew Sharsh all enter this game with more than 800 receiving yards.

BYU is likely to drop eight into zone coverage and force Hawaii into running the ball. The Cougars have struggled with run defense all season and the Rainbow Warriors do have weapons in the backfield to make them pay. Miles Reed emerged as a solid primary back as the season progressed. The sophomore has racked up 891 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Reed has run for 70 or more yards seven times this season.

When BYU Has the Ball

The Cougars are back to square one after the offense bottomed out in a 13-3 loss to San Diego State in the regular-season finale. BYU totaled 416 yards, but also turned the ball over three times and missed a pair of field goals. Hawaii is much more forgiving on defense, which should allow the Cougars to finish drives easier this time around.

Much of how well BYU moves the ball will hinge on what quarterback Zach Wilson can do now that he's had a few more weeks to heal his thumb. A fractured thumb sidelined Wilson for four games this season and he has looked a bit shaky at times after returning to action in mid-November. Still, Wilson has thrown for 2,108 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games. He has helped the Cougars rack up 14 straight 200-yard games. Wilson has a track record of doing well in the postseason. He threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns on 18-of-18 passing against Western Michigan in BYU's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl victory last season.

Extra pressure will be on Wilson and his top receivers, Matt Bushman, Talon Shumway, and Micah Simon to get it done. Each member of this trio accumulated more than 40 catches and 500 receiving yards during the regular season. With a backfield decimated by injuries, they will be the focal point of BYU's offense. Lopini Katoa, the Cougars' current No. 1 back, has just 307 yards and three touchdowns on 74 carries.

Final Analysis

BYU has had Hawaii's number since the early 1990s. The Rainbow Warriors have been strong on their home field this season, but they have not been unbeatable either. The Cougars are thin in some key positions because of injuries, but they do have a good enough defense to slow Hawaii down a bit. It may be just enough to give BYU the upper hand once again on their old WAC rival.

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Prediction: BYU 31, Hawaii 28

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

(Top photo courtesy of BYU Athletics)