Last year, it was the Bahamas. This year, it’s Hawaii.
No Group of 5 program has fared better at scoring tropical bowl destinations the last two seasons than Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders will try to turn their nine-hour plane trip to Honolulu into a win in the Hawaii Bowl against San Diego State on Saturday.
“Two melatonins before I get on the plane to get as much sleep as I can,” said safety Teldrick Ross of the trip across four time zones and an ocean. “That way, if I can cut the plane ride down to only like four or five and a half hours, I’ll take it.”
Middle Tennessee (7-5) has become a bowl regular under veteran coach Rick Stockstill. The former Florida State quarterback has taken the team to 10 bowls in his 17 seasons on the job, and his 108 wins in Murfreesboro are the third most in program history.
The Blue Raiders’ 2022 highlight was a 45-31 win at Miami on Sept. 24, sending the Hurricanes out of the rankings for good. Middle Tennessee quarterback Chase Cunningham threw for 408 yards that day, and he has thrown for 2,920 yards in 11 games with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The team’s defensive leader is safety Tra Fluellen, who has 97 tackles and seven pass breakups.
Meanwhile, the Aztecs (7-5) were two different teams this year — one before Mississippi State transfer Jalen Mayden took over at quarterback and another after he got the job from Virginia Tech transfer Braxton Burmeister.
Prior to Mayden’s insertion, San Diego State went 2-3 and averaged just 19 points per game with an inefficient passing attack. With Mayden running the offense, the Aztecs posted a 5-2 mark and scored 23 points per game.
Mayden has completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,721 yards and 10 touchdowns, giving the offense some big-play potential it didn’t have in recent years. He has thrown seven interceptions.
Aztecs coach Brady Hoke said the bowl trip is a reward for his team and also a chance to win the last game of the year.
“We’re going to make sure that there’s enough that they can enjoy but also get ready to win a football game,” he said.
This programs will be meeting for the first time.