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5 Players to Watch: EasyPost Hawaii Bowl

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Here are some of the key contributors you will see on the Christmas Eve Bowl (and some that you will not see)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 24 New Mexico Bowl Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

December 2021 of the college footballing world has been absolute madness. Head coaching changes galore, the transfer portal stuffed to the max. Mayhem all month. That’s unfortunately been the case for Hawaii as well, as the program has made national headlines for all the wrong reasons. The SFGATE captured the discontent in the Hawaii locker room. Some might dismiss these rumblings as the sour grapes of a few players, but the frustrations have been validated by high-profile players electing to transfer away from Hawaii despite being entrenched starters.

That said, there is a bowl game to be played on Christmas Eve. According to DraftKings, Hawaii is an 8.5-point underdog against the Memphis Tigers. Yes, it’s fair to wonder what the level of desire is for this Hawaii team. Will they be up for this bowl game? No telling prior to game day. Here are some of the impact players you’ll see in this game, and some players you won’t see.

Hawaii Linebacker Darius Muasau

While transfers and opt-outs will surely influence the result of this game, fear not television viewers. This Hawaii Bowl will still feature some star power, and it starts with superstar sophomore linebacker Darius Muasau. Muasau was stellar as a freshman in 2020, but really broke out this fall. Muasau finished first-team all-conference in the Mountain West, racking up 108 tackles and 7 sacks. He also intercepted one pass, returning it for a touchdown, and forced 5 fumbles this fall. The heart of the Hawaii defense that ranked 4th-nationally in turnovers gained, Muasau came up big for this defense time and time again. Expect to hear his name several times during the 2021 Hawaii Bowl.

Hawaii Defensive Back Khoury Bethley

Bethley is the other Warrior that finished first-team all-conference for the Mountain West. Bottom line: Khoury Bethley will go down as one of the greatest Hawaii Warriors ever. He was a key force on the 2019 team that won the West Division of the Mountain West, leading to Hawaii’s first-ever trip to the Mountain West championship game. Bethley had 99 tackles this season, including 4 sacks. He also intercepted 5 passes, which makes him tied for 2nd-nationally in that category. A total ball hawk, Bethley’s standout performance of the 2021 season came against then-ranked Fresno State, in which Bethley intercepted Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener twice and forced a fumble, leading to Hawaii upsetting the Bulldogs 27-24. Bethley is a turnover waiting to happen, and he’ll likely be a factor for the Warriors in this contest against Memphis.

Hawaii Wide Receiver Calvin Turner Jr.

As I said, the star power is still going to shine in this game. As of this posting, there’s been no indication that Turner Jr. will sit out the bowl game. If he plays, expect him to feature heavily on offense. Turner Jr. plays both running back and wide receiver for the Warriors but could feature more heavily than usual at running back after recent transfers (we’ll get to this) have hit the team hard. Turner Jr. finished second-team all-conference this fall. He rushed for 316 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns, while also compiling 876 receiving yards and 4 touchdown catches. Turner Jr. is a remarkable offensive weapon; one offensive coordinator Bo Graham should make good use of in CTJ’s final collegiate football game.

Memphis Quarterback Seth Henigan

I cover Hawaii for the Mountain West Connection, but there are two teams in this bowl game, so I’ll throw the Memphis Tigers a few bones. As far as we know (I feel like this disclaimer fits all players this bowl season), Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan will play in this game. Heingan threw for 3,322 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and 8 interceptions this fall, and is one of the better quarterbacks in college football. Memphis ranks poorly in the running game, so expect the freshman quarterback to be the main catalyst for this offense. Henigan is an emerging star, the 2021 Hawaii Bowl is an opportunity for viewers to say, “Hey! I watched him play before he was famous.” Keep an eye out for his likely main target tight end Sean Dykes, he’ll be a difficult task for Hawaii.

Memphis Linebacker J.J. Russell

Last but certainly not least, keep an eye out for Memphis linebacker J.J. Russell. Russell finished first-team all-conference this fall. Overall, the Memphis defense ranked poorly in 2021, but none of that falls on Russell’s shoulders, he had an insane 123 tackles, good for 9th-nationally. When the Warrior offensive players are being tackles, good chance Russell will be involved. He’s the danger man for this Tiger defense. Expect many collisions between Russell and Hawaii running back Dedrick Parson on Christmas Eve.

Here are the players that we won’t be watching...

In this era, it’s tradition during bowl season for participating teams to be missing players due to injury, opt-outs of transfers. There is even a chance the players mentioned above might change their mind last minute and sit out the 2021 EasyPost Hawaii Bowl. We know for sure that Memphis wide receiver Calvin Austin III has opted out from this game to prep for the 2022 NFL Draft. Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, running back Dae Dae Hunter, and cornerback Calvin Lockridge all now infamously transferred away from Hawaii. Cordeiro is now with San Jose State, Hunter is with Liberty. Lockridge left for South Alabama. There will be plenty of future NFL talent on the field Christmas Eve, but you won’t see any of these guys playing.