HONOLULU - Southern Methodist coach June Jones felt and looked right at home when he walked into Aloha Stadium.
Dressed in slacks and rubber slippers, he strolled down a corridor where portraits of the University of Hawaii's biggest stars hung on the wall, most of them players Jones coached during an eight-year tenure that made him so popular in the islands that some suggested he run for governor.
When Jones left a news conference for the Hawaii Bowl, scheduled for today against Fresno State, he flashed a shaka to faces he has seen for years.
June Jones, shown after coaching Southern Methodist to a win in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl, is unbeaten in his last 10 games at Aloha Stadium.
AP file photo
Never mind that the Bulldogs and Warriors are both in the Mountain West Conference, or that Fresno State has won its last five games by an average of 26 points, and is favored by nearly two touchdowns.
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."
Hawaii Bowl At Honolulu
SMU (6-6) vs. Fresno St. (9-3), 3 p.m. (ESPN)
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl At Detroit
C. Michigan (6-6) vs. W. Kentucky (7-5), 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Military Bowl At Washington
Bowling Green (8-4) vs. San Jose St. (10-2), 10 a.m. (ESPN)
Belk Bowl At Charlotte, N.C.
Duke (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (9-3), 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Holiday Bowl At San Diego
Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4), 4:45 p.m. (ESPN)
Friday, Dec. 28
Independence Bowl At Shreveport, La.
Louisiana-Monroe (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4), 9 a.m. (ESPN)
Russell Athletic Bowl At Orlando, Fla.
Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Rutgers (9-3), 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Meineke Car Care Bowl At Houston
Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Jones will be coaching for the 75th time in Aloha Stadium when the Mustangs (6-6) face the Bulldogs (9-3). He has won his last 10 games in Honolulu, including a perfect regular season with UH in 2007 before he bolted for SMU over what he felt were hollow promises about upgrading facilities.
The Mustangs, who had gone 25 years without a bowl game, ended that drought when Jones brought them to the Hawaii Bowl in 2009 and SMU beat Nevada 45-10.
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 the conference awards this year - offensive player (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 a debut season as head coach.
Jones has seen plenty of the Bulldogs from his days with the Warriors when both teams were part of the Western Athletic Conference. He is not used to seeing them spread the field with so many playmakers, however - Carr has passed for 3,742 yards with 36 touchdowns and just five interceptions, Adams has 13 touchdown catches and Robbie Rouse has rushed for 1,498 yards and 12 scores.
Jones tried to recruit Carr, who was living in Houston while his brother - former Fresno State quarterback David Carr - was playing for the Houston Texans. Carr said it came down to SMU and Fresno State, though he always wanted to get back to his roots in California's central valley.
Jones apparently knew what he was missing. During the news conference leading up the game, he raved so much about Carr that some clarification was in order.
"I think he's the best quarterback we'll face this year," Jones said. "He throws the ball very accurately. He can run. He can move a little bit. I thought the quarterback from Central Florida (Blake Bortles) was probably the best one we played. I think Derek is ahead of him."
Yes, but SMU also played Texas A&M and Johnny Man-ziel, this year's Heisman Trophy winner, who helped the Aggies to a 48-3 drubbing of the Mustangs.
"He wasn't playing 'quarterback.' He was running around making plays," Jones said later. He said his reference to Carr was as a dropback passer.
Mustangs linebacker Taylor Reed still has clear visions of that loss to the Aggies and said it was difficult to compare Manziel with Carr.
"I'm not taking anything away from Johnny Manziel. He made moves on the field that I have never seen in my career," Reed said. "I can talk from experience. I thought I had him wrapped up in a sack and he got away and threw a touchdown. Derek Carr it's apples and oranges. Derek has a much stronger and accurate arm, and he's going to be a great player on the next level."