HONOLULU – SMU coach June Jones felt and looked right at home when he walked into Aloha Stadium.
Dressed in slacks and flip flops, he strolled down a corridor where portraits of Hawaii’s biggest stars hung on the wall, most of them players that Jones coached during an eight-year tenure that made him so popular in paradise that some suggested he run for governor. When Jones left a news conference for the Hawaii Bowl, he flashed the “Hang Loose” symbol to faces he has seen for years.
Never mind that Fresno State knows this island and stadium from playing at Hawaii every other year in the Mountain West Conference. Or that the Bulldogs, who have won their last five games by an average of 26 points, are favored by nearly two touchdowns against SMU on Christmas Eve.
Jones has ample reason to feel the Hawaii Bowl is a home game.
“Coming into the stadium it sure does,” Jones said. “We’re in the same locker room. I know where everybody is. I recognize all the workers. From that standpoint, it does. But it all comes down to seeing friends. I try to teach my kids that you play the game and you want to win, but there’s more to it than that. It’s about the people around you and all the intangible things that make an ordinary team better.”
Jones will be coaching for the 75th time in Aloha Stadium when his Mustangs (6-6), who scored 72 in a win over Houston this season, face Fresno State (9-3) in the Hawaii Bowl. He hasn’t lost in this stadium since Oregon State beat Hawaii on Dec. 2, 2006. Hawaii had a perfect regular season in 2007, and then Jones bolted for SMU over what he felt were hollow promises about upgrading facilities.
SMU, which had gone 25 years without a bowl game dating to its NCAA penalty, ended that drought when Jones brought the Mustangs to the Hawaii Bowl in 2009 and, despite being nearly a two-touchdown favorite to another MWC team, scored the first 38 points in a 45-10 win over Nevada.
Fresno State, however, presents a different kind of test.
Since losing to Boise State, the Bulldogs have averaged just over 47 points in winning their last five games. They swept all the conference awards this year – offensive player of the year (quarterback Derek Carr), defensive player (strong safety Phillip Thomas) and top freshman (Davante Adams).
“To a fan watching this game, they’ll see two spread offenses that can light up a scoreboard, and two defenses that can take it away,” said Tim DeRuyter, who set a Fresno State record for most wins in his first season as head coach.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.