The 2009 Hawaiʻi Bowl was SMU's first bowl bid since playing in Hawaii in the 1984 Aloha Bowl, and more notably was their first since the program was relaunched in 1989 after being shut down for two years due to massive NCAA rules violations. Head coach June Jones made his first appearance as a coach in Aloha Stadium since leaving Hawaiʻi in 2008 to take over the SMU football program.
SMU freshman starter Kyle Padron, who was himself a backup until an injury earlier in the season to then starter Bo Levi Mitchell, was named the game's MVP after throwing for 460 yards and two touchdowns.
The two teams met for the first time since 2004 when they were both members of the WAC. They previously played five times from 2000–2004 with Nevada having led the series with a 3–2 record. Previous to this game, the last meeting was a 38–20 victory by SMU.