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Hawai'i Bowl: San Diego State Aztecs vs. Cincinnati Bearcats

Hawai'i Bowl: San Diego State Aztecs vs. Cincinnati Bearcats

Date: Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN

Location: Honolulu | Aloha Stadium

San Diego State Aztecs

Best moment: The second half at Penn State. Things started to click. Although they lost by two touchdowns the Aztecs were driving in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead before the Nittany Lions returned a fumble for a touchdown. After that game SDSU won eight straight, all by double digits, as everything clicked for the physical Aztecs.

Lowest moment: It’s hard to believe the same team that ran the table in the Mountain West Conference with an 8-0 mark was the same one that lost in overtime to eventual 5-7 South Alabama in Week 3. Worse, the Aztecs held a 27-24 lead with a little more than two minutes left in regulation, but the Jaguars marched 42 yards and connected on a 46-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime.

Key player: Running back Donnel Pumphrey, for the most part, picked up where he left off last season. He carried 268 times for 1,464 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground with an average of 5.5 yards per carry. He had at least 120 rushing yards in every conference game this season.

Motivation level: The Aztecs won their first outright conference title for the first time since 1986, so they are already feeling pretty good. Add a nine-game winning streak to that and you have a team looking for some national credibility. A bowl win, combined with a 10-game winning streak and a conference title, likely lands SDSU in the final top 25 rankings and caps one of the finest seasons since the Don Coryell and Claude Gilbert eras of the '70s.

-- Kevin Gemmell

Cincinnati Bearcats

Best moment: Oct. 1 vs. Miami. As if the sight of Tommy Tuberville going wild in the locker room afterward wasn’t reason enough, consider the Bearcats pulled off the Thursday night upset with a backup quarterback, as Hayden Moore threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns to help Cincinnati deliver Miami its first loss of the season.

Lowest moment: Nov. 20 at South Florida. No team had a better in-season turnaround in 2015 than USF did, going from 1-3 to 8-4. That said, a 65-27 loss to anyone is embarrassing, given the caliber of program Cincinnati has become in the last decade. It was 34-0 before the Bearcats scored a point, and it was 51-3 at halftime. Fortunately for the Bearcats, they rebounded with a 19-16 win at East Carolina in their regular-season finale.

Key player: WR Shaq Washington. Washington was one of the league’s best receivers this season, tallying 88 catches for 971 yards and six touchdowns, all of which ranked in the top five in the AAC. The redshirt senior had four 100-yard receiving games, including a 15-catch performance in the finale at ECU.

Motivation level: High. A 7-5 season is not a bad campaign for Cincinnati, but the Bearcats are used to better than that in the last decade. With or without a bowl win, this will be the program’s lowest victory total since 2010, when it went 4-8 in Butch Jones’ first year.

-- Matt Fortuna