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Sun Bowl Preview and Prediction: Arizona State vs. Duke

Duke Blue Devils

Duke Blue Devils

Arizona State missed a shot at the Pac-12 Championship Game on the final weekend of the regular season by losing to rival Arizona. Duke missed a shot at the ACC Championship Game by losing two of its final three games after the Blue Devils controlled their own destiny as late as Week 13.

But the 81st edition of the Sun Bowl, the second-oldest bowl game in college football (Rose), offers a chance at 10 wins for two 9-3 programs. It would be just the second 10-win season for Duke in school history after accomplishing the feat for the first time last season, and its first bowl win since 1960.

Todd Graham has taken the Sun Devils to the postseason in all three seasons in Tempe but the school has won just one bowl game since 2005. It would also be a second consecutive season with double-digit wins for ASU for the first time since 1970-73.

This is Duke’s first appearance in the Sun Bowl while Arizona State is third all-time behind Texas Tech (9) and UTEP (8) with five Sun Bowl bids. One of those showings was the record-setting 0-0 tie with Catholic University in the 1940 Sun Bowl.

This will be the first-ever meeting between these two different types of Devils.

Arizona State vs. Duke

Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. ET (Dec. 27)

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Arizona State -7.5

Arizona State’s Key to Victory: Quarterback stability

Late in the de facto Pac-12 South Division title game with Arizona, Graham startled some by switching from Taylor Kelly to Mike Bercovici. They both threw 22 passes for less than 150 yards and two touchdowns. It was a strange move that came in a critical moment, but following the loss, Graham reaffirmed Kelly would remain the starter for the bowl game. Both players are capable but the time off should allow Kelly to return to full strength after dealing with injuries all season long. He has looked sharp in bowl practice and has a significant edge in experience on Bercovici. But just because it’s Kelly’s final game in an ASU uniform doesn’t mean the big-armed backup won’t get some snaps.

Arizona State is facing the second-best defense, statistically, that it has faced all year behind only Stanford. Duke is 20th in pass efficiency defense and 20th in scoring defense nationally behind the play of a great secondary. How the veteran quarterbacks play will be the biggest key to an Arizona State victory.

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Duke's Key to Victory: Get Jamison Crowder the ball

Duke is solid on defense and should matchup well with Arizona State but will need to move the ball on offense to stay in the game. Quarterback Anthony Boone has been a solid leader but ranked near the bottom of the ACC in most passing statistics. Crowder is one of the most productive players in ACC history (276 career receptions, 5,402 all-purpose yards) and David Cutcliffe needs to find multiple ways to get his top playmaker the ball in his final game as a Blue Devil. Be it trick plays, deep shots or special teams, Crowder is the key for Duke’s offense.

Final Analysis

The regular season ended with a bit of a whimper for both teams after a fantastic first two months of the season so getting up to play in El Paso could be difficult for both locker rooms. That said, both teams are extremely well coached by two veteran leaders in Cutcliffe and Graham, and Duke is still looking for its first bowl win in more than six decades. Arizona State has the talent edge and is the heavy favorite for a reason but the Blue Devils have a strength-on-strength matchup when the Sun Devils’ offense is on the field. D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong might be too much in this Devilish duel.

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Prediction: Arizona State 31, Duke 27