ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS BREAKDOWN Arizona State hit the 10-win mark in Todd Graham's second season as head coach and won the Pac-12's South Division. Despite a decisive loss in the conference title game to Stanford, the program appears to be on a decided uptick.
Defensive tackle Will Sutton is a disruptive force for the Sun Devils.
The season did start with controversy. On Sept. 14 at Arizona State, Wisconsin appeared to have put itself in position to kick a winning field goal, but Badgers QB Joel Stave opted to unconventionally place the ball on the ground instead of just falling down himself, and the Pac-12 officiating crew melted down in a panic of indecision, allowing the clock to expire. It was embarrassing for the conference but nonetheless a win in the ledger for the Sun Devils.
After an impressive domination of USC, a 62-41 defeat that got Trojans coach Lane Kiffin fired, the Sun Devils played a flat game against Notre Dame in Cowboy Stadium. That, however, would be their last regular-season defeat. They rolled up seven impressive wins in a row and won the South and earned home-field advantage in the Pac-12 title game.
Most notable was a road victory at No. 14 UCLA -- the Sun Devils had been notoriously inconsistent on the road -- and a 58-21 beatdown of archival Arizona.
While Stanford pushed Arizona State around in both meetings this fall, knocking the Sun Devils out of the Rose Bowl, it clearly was a satisfying season in Tempe. The Sun Devils are led by DT Will Sutton, two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and QB Taylor Kelly, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. The only bad news over the final part of the season was an injury to RB Marion Grice, who missed the last two games and is questionable at best for the Holiday Bowl.
-- Ted Miller
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS BREAKDOWN Momentum is a strange thing. Texas Tech had an awful lot of it to start 2013, winning seven in a row to kick off Kliff Kingsbury’s debut season. The team climbed as high as No. 10 in the polls.
Baker Mayfield will hope to step forward in the Texas Tech QB derby during the postseason.
Then came five losses in a row, by an average margin of 20 points, to the Big 12’s five other bowl-eligible teams. They had the third-worst turnover margin in FBS and second-worst run defense in the Big 12. A promising season fell apart quickly.
This bowl game gives Kingsbury a chance to regain some of that momentum entering the offseason, both for next year’s team and the next few months of recruiting. A victory would be Texas Tech’s first since Oct. 19, a win at West Virginia.
It’s also more time to shore up the weaknesses that the Big 12’s best teams were able to expose. The Red Raiders’ run defense gave up 294 rushing yards per game in its losses and should be seriously tested again.
Perhaps the biggest questions the bowl can answer for Texas Tech is this: Who’s the quarterback? Baker Mayfield started seven games in 2013, Davis Webb started five and Michael Brewer could still be in the mix. Getting another game and 15 extra practices could help bring clarity. -- Max Olson