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Sun Devils, Red Raiders heading in separate directions
The Holiday Bowl will be an exercise in differing fortunes for both teams.
Think back to Oct. 19: Texas Tech was 7-0 and ranked 10th in the first BCS standings. At the same time, Arizona State was nowhere to be found in the rankings. The Sun Devils responded to a 37-34 loss to Notre Dame in Arlington to win back-to-back games against Colorado and Washington, but they hadn’t worked their way back into the national conversation.
Since then Texas Tech hasn’t won a game, and Arizona State rode a seven-game win streak to the Pac-12 championship game.
Despite a second lopsided loss to Stanford to deny Arizona State the Rose Bowl, the Sun Devils have reason for optimism for the future of the program.
Coach Todd Graham, 18-8 with the Sun Devils and 13-5 in the Pac-12, has reaffirmed his commitment to Arizona State. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell accepted a promotion to deputy head coach after his name surfaced in connection to the Arkansas State head coaching and Florida offensive coordinator openings.
With good reason, Arizona State fans might not feel perfectly comfortable with the stability of the coaching staff until Texas hires a coach not named Todd Graham.
But for now, Arizona State is looking to cap its breakthrough season with a victory over hapless Texas Tech.
Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
Kickoff: Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Arizona State by 14
Three Things to Watch
Marion Grice’s status
Arizona State is hopeful top rusher Marion Grice will return from a lower left leg injury to face Texas Tech after missing the last two games of the regular season. D.J. Foster filled in nicely for Grice against Arizona (124 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries), but he was held to 62 yards on eight carries against Stanford, with 51 of those yards coming on one carry. Texas Tech allowed an average of 294 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ five-game losing streak. Grice, who accounted for 1,434 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns, would be a major advantage.
This game will be stocked with standout linebackers. Arizona State finished 12th nationally in tackles for a loss thanks in part to Chris Young (16.5) and Carl Bradford (18). Texas Tech’s All-Big 12 left tackle Le’Raven Clark will have enough to keep him occupied with Texas Tech’s supply of edge rushers. Despite Texas Tech’s defensive struggles late in the season, linebacker Will Smith was a consistent performer with 106 stops and 8.5 tackles for a loss.
Texas Tech’s quarterbacks
The Red Raiders haven’t had a settled quarterback situation since the preseason, partly due to injury. Kliff Kingsbury will be down a man with Baker Mayfield electing to transfer — Mayfield and fellow freshman Davis Webb passed for an identical 2,315 yards. Webb was marginally more effective statistically (7.6 yards per attempt, 16 touchdown passes both exceeded Mayfield’s numbers), but the question is if Michael Brewer, the projected starter back in spring, will make an appearance.
Key Player: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Amaro’s production tailed off late in the season when he faced Kansas State, Baylor and Texas, but the 6-5, 260-pound tight end is a matchup nightmare whether he lines up out wide or on the line. Facing the stout Arizona State defense could be a key game for the draft-eligible junior.
The Holiday Bowl has one of the biggest point spreads of any bowl game thanks to matching one of the hottest teams in the country with the bowl team in the biggest slump. Both seasons have to consider the year a success, though. Texas Tech validated the hire of the youthful Kliff Kingsbury with a 7-5 season while Arizona State reached the Pac-12 title game. Both teams will be hoping for momentum next season, so the Holiday Bowl could provide a key springboard.
Prediction: Arizona State 38, Texas Tech 21