PHOENIX - Holiday Bowl Preview: Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Monday, Dec. 30: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
The Pac-12 Championship game left the Arizona State Sun Devils with a sour taste in their mouths, losing to Stanford for the second time in 2013 and missing out on a chance to go to the Rose Bowl for just the third time in school history.
Instead of heading to Pasadena, the Devils travel to San Diego for the school's fourth trip to the Holiday Bowl where ASU will take on Texas Tech.
Given Tech's five game losing streak to end the season, the Sun Devils are heavy 14 point favorites to win. If ASU can pull off the win, it will be Arizona State's first win at the Holiday Bowl in four tries.
Despite losing its Pac-12 opener to then #5 ranked Stanford on the road, the Sun Devils ended the regular season as the Pac-12 South Champions and had home-field advantage in the Pac-12 Championship game. After losing to the Cardinal early in the season, the Devils reeled off 8 wins in conference play, winning by an average of 19.7 points per game.
But regardless of how the regular season played out, the Sun Devils still couldn't beat the Cardinal, even at home, suffering their worst loss in more than three years, a 38-14 loss in early December.
"I really thought we were going to win. I really did," said Coach Todd Graham, who won Pac-12 Coach of the Year in his second season with the Sun Devils. "We made mistakes and it took us a little long to make adjustments."
Heading into the Holiday Bowl, Arizona State can achieve something that hasn't happened since 1996 -- winning 11 games in a season.
On the other sideline, the Texas Tech Red Raiders might also think playing in the Holiday Bowl is a bit of a letdown after starting the season 7-0. Tech was ranked as high as No. 10 midway through the season before falling to Oklahoma 38-30. That loss marked the beginning of their slide, as the Red Raiders lost their final five games of the season to fall to 7-5.
After losing to the Sooners, the Red Raiders lost the next four by an average of 23.8 points.
To make matters worse, Baker Mayfield, the Big 12 Freshman of the year and Texas Tech's starting quarterback who finished the season with 2,315 yards and finished with 15 touchdowns in eight games, told coach Kliff Kingsbury in early December that he is going to transfer.
"I didn't see it coming," said Kingsbury. "We had a good talk. He didn't give me many specifics as to why, but he definitely emphasized that he was ready to move on."
Kingsbury will now have to go with either Davis Webb or Michael Brewer in the Holiday Bowl. Both are young and much will be expected of either one as they try to lead the nation's second leading passing offense (392.0 yards per game) against ASU.
Freshman Davis Webb threw for 16 touchdowns this season, while sophomore Michael Brewer completed 7 of 10 passes for just 65 yards and one touchdown.
On defense, the Red Raiders will have to stop a solid Sun Devil offense that produced plenty of points itself. ASU is averaging 41 points per game behind junior quarterback Taylor Kelly. Kelly has thrown for 3,510 yards and 28 touchdowns.
The Texas Tech defense has given up an average of 504 yards per game in their final five games, so slowing down ASU will be a concern for Kingsbury.
The key for ASU will be slowing down Tech's tight end Jace Amaro, who has 1,240 yards and is just 89 yards shy of an NCAA single-season record by a tight end.
This one could end up being a shoot-out in San Diego, no pun intended! And as far as the mascots are concerned, you have to go with the Devils over a gun toting cowboy! Clearly Raider Red is over-matched by the Devil! My prediction: Arizona State by 17.