It’s that time of year again—Bowl Season! This year, everyone’s favorite bowl, the Hyundai Sun Bowl, features the Wolfpack of North Carolina State and the Sun Devils of Arizona State. The 84th Sun Bowl will be played on December 29th at 3:00 PM (ET) in El Paso, TX. The host venue will once again be Sun Bowl Stadium, home of the UTEP Miners.
The Sun Bowl is entering into the second year of a six-year contract with the ACC and the Pac-12. Last year the Sun Bowl saw the #16 Stanford Cardinal take down Mitch Trubisky and the North Carolina Tar Heels in a nail-biter, 25-23.
Weeks before this year’s big game, Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino (via Odds Shark) has NC State as a 5 point favorite over ASU. This will be the first meeting between these two programs since 1974, a matchup that featured two legendary coaches in Lou Holtz and Frank Kush.
You can catch the game on CBS which will feature four All-conference first team players. Here’s what to look for:
The Wolfpack finished the year ranked #24 in the College Football Playoff rankings after compiling an 8-4 record and finishing second in the ACC Atlantic behind #1 Clemson. Head coach Dave Doeren led the team to their best ACC mark since 1994 and their first Top 25 ranking in program history (ranked as high as #15 during the season).
During the season they suffered losses to South Carolina, Notre Dame, Clemson, and Wake Forest. However, an early season victory over then #12 Florida State catapulted the Wolfpack’s season.
On offense, they are led by quarterback Ryan Finley who threw for 3200 yards on the season, second in the ACC only to reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson. The Phoenix, Arizona native is ranked ninth in the country in average completions per game (24) and has completed 64% of his passes on the year with 16 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
Look for Finley to target his two top receivers, WR Kelvin Harmon (ACC Second Team) and TE Jaylen Samuels (ACC First Team). Harmon had 65 receptions for 993 yards while Samuels had 5.8 receptions per game and 11 rushing touchdowns out of his 15 total touchdowns. NC State is ranked near the bottom in passing yards per completion, so expect a lot of short passes from Finley.
On the ground, the Wolfpack will look to go to Nyheim Hines, a junior from Garner, NC. The All-ACC First Team running back ran for 1040 yards while averaging 5.75 yards per carry and 86.7 yards per game. He only scored 9 of the 29 Wolfpack rushing touchdowns though. Expect them to go to TE Samuels on the goal-line to punch the ball in.
The defense is led by senior DE Bradley Chubb. Chubb led the ACC in sacks with 10 and forced 3 fumbles leading him to the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. This week he was also awarded the Bronko Nagurski Trophy given to the nation’s top defensive player.
This will be NC State’s 31st bowl game (16-13-1) having never played in the Sun Bowl.
For the past couple weeks in Tempe, the biggest news stories have been about the firing of Todd Graham and the subsequent hiring of Herm Edwards. In light of recent events, Vice President of University Athletics, Ray Anderson has addressed the coaching situation for the bowl game. Todd Graham will coach one final game for the Sun Devils.
Though Graham’s Sun Devil team never punctured the Top 25, their 7-5 season saw some bright moments. ASU’s home wins against #24 Oregon, Arizona, and #5 Washington gave Sun Devil fans a lot to cheer about in what was another mediocre season.
With a 2-3 record in bowl games under Coach Graham, the Devils will try to send him out on a high note.
Redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins ranks 28th in the country with 2918 passing yards and 29th with a .635 completion percentage. He leads an offense that’s ranked 23rd nationally in average time of possession (32 MPG).
His greatest receiving destination will undoubtedly be N’Keal Harry, the Sun Devil’s only representative on the Pac-12 First Team. Harry had 73 receptions for exactly 1000 yards, averaging 6.1 receptions per reception and 83.3 yards per game.
ASU will also try to effectively run the ball with their two backs, Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. Together they combined for 1634 rushing yards and 18 TDs.
The Sun Devil defense is comprised of many important parts. Alani Latu has 7 sacks in only 10 games. Christian Sam is second in the country with 7.3 solo tackles per game and 10.6 total tackles per game. Defensive lineman, Jojo Wicker, was named to the Pac-12 Second Team.
The objective for ASU will be to protect the quarterback. They rank near the bottom of the NCAA in sacks allowed per game with 3.17. They will need to contain Bradley Chubb if they want to be successful which is easier said than done.
They will also need to be aware of NC State’s passing attack. ASU was one of the worst in the country in allowing yards in the air by allowing 268.1 passing yards per game.
It will help that ASU is one of the least penalized teams in the country. Averaging 4.08 penalties per game, they are tied as the seventh least penalized team.
This will be ASU’s 30th bowl game in their history. They are 14-14-1 while going 3-1-1 in the Sun Bowl.
Key Matchup to Watch
The matchup to keep your eye on will be the Arizona State offense versus the NC State defense inside the red zone.
ASU is the 5th best team in the country at converting in the red zone. They’ve scored 95.8% of the time, good for 46 of their 48 trips. They score a touchdown in 75% of the trips into the red zone with 25 of them coming on the ground.
Conversely, NC State was one of the best red zone defenses in the country only allowing their opponents to score 76.9% of the time.
It will be a matchup worth watching. You can catch the 84th Hyundai Sun Bowl on December 29th, at 3:00 pm (ET) on CBS.
Credit Photo to thesunbowl.org