Las Vegas Bowl (Las Vegas, Nevada): Arizona State (7-5) vs. Fresno State (11-2)
How They Got Here: Arizona State
In the first year of the Herm Edwards experiment in Tempe, the results ended up the same as last year: a 7-5 record at the end of the year. That doesn’t tell the full story though as it was a very up and down path to where they ended up. After starting off 2-0 with a big win over then #15 Michigan State on national television, ASU dropped the next two games and seemed to fall off the national radar for a little bit before ripping off three in a row on the back half of the schedule to give themselves a chance at the Pac 12 South title. While they fell short of this goal, they still beat rival Arizona to claim what should likely be considered a successful year.
Star wideout N’Keal Harry will be inactive for the bowl game, but there are still plenty of other weapons surrounding senior quarterback Manny Wilkins. Wilkins has been very good this year, as always, finishing 17th overall among qualifiers and 4th in the Pac 12. In the backfield behind Wilkins, runningback Eno Benjamin had a breakout year with over 1500 yards on the ground and 15 touchdowns. Even without Harry, this duo should be able to lead a very good offense.
How They Got Here: Fresno State
Countering that offensive attack will be the stout defense of the Fresno State Bulldogs. Fresno had the #9 defense in FBS this year by S&P+ this year and despite being a group of five team, should not be taken lightly. After barely missing out on the Mountain West Conference Championship, Jeff Tedford’s team will be looking for redemption to end the season and prove they can hang with power five opponents.
Under center for the Bulldogs is another senior QB in Marcus McMaryion. His 3,425 yards, 25 touchdowns, and three interceptions on the year was good enough to earn a 9th place ranking in QB WAR. KeeSean Johnson will be the main receiver to watch in this one as he led the team with 93 catches for 1307 yards.
Player to Watch: Jeff Allison
The junior linebacker for the Bulldogs led the team in tackles this season with 109 total tackles en route to winning the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors. Allison will be key in shutting down Eno Benjamin and Arizona State’s run game.
Fresno has moved from being three point favorites at open to now being favored by 5.5. The over/under in the game sits at 54 points. The Bulldogs have been among the best teams in the country ATS this year, finishing with a 9-4 mark. On the flip side, just four of Fresno’s 13 games this season have hit the over.
While both teams have super efficient senior quarterbacks and top 40 level offenses, only one team has a great defense and that will be the equalizer. I don’t see there being many turnovers in this game based on the experience of the two quarterbacks, but I think that the Fresno defense is going to come up with some big stops and shut down Benjamin and the Sun Devil run game. My pick here would be Fresno State plus the points. I’ll put a predicted score on this one of 30-21 Bulldogs.