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Tournament: Sun Bowl 2017
Team : NC State vs Arizona State
Date: Friday, December 29, 2017
Kick Time Off : 3:00 pm ET
Location: Sun Bowl Stadium — El Paso, Texas
First played in 1935, the Sun Bowl is one of the oldest and most historic bowl games in college football. The El Paso community rallies behind the game and those fans who do make the trip are in store for a unique experience that is not easily replicated by other games in the current postseason slate.
This year’s ACC-Pac-12 matchup features NC State and Arizona State with one team trying to capitalize on what has been a generationally great roster and another undergoing a head coaching transition. 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year Todd Graham will be on the sidelines for one final time with the Sun Devils.
No. 24 NC State: The Wolfpack have a lot of NFL talent, and whether potential top-five pick Bradley Chubb plays or not, you are going to get a chance to see some players who will soon be suiting up on Sunday. Running back Nyheim Hines and all-purpose threat Jaylen Samuels have been among the best skill position players in the ACC this year, and quarterback Ryan Finley — who has been in total control of this Eli Drinkwitz’ offense in his second year as the starter — garnered the attention of NFL scouts earlier this year and could face a decision of his own in the next couple of weeks.
But for Dave Doeren, this game represents a chance to finish his best season at NC State on a high note. The Wolfpack’s 6-2 ACC record is the program’s best since 1994, and a win could also result in Doeren’s first top 25 finish with the Wolfpack at 9-4. There is going to be a lot of turnover after this year, but can they capitalize on the final game with an experienced, talent-laden roster?
Arizona State: What a strange month it’s been for ASU. After leading the Sun Devils to a second-place finish in the Pac-12 South that included wins against Washington and Oregon, Graham lost his job. He will, however, be coaching this team in the bowl game along with a coaching staff that has mostly decided not to stick around and join Herm Edwards as ASU’s administration hoped.
On the field, this is a great chance to see an offense that took a huge step forward in 2017 under Billy Napier. Unfortunately for Arizona State fans, Napier (a former wide receivers coach at Alabama) has already accepted a new job as head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette. Running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage have benefited from a much more efficient passing attack, and 1,000-yard receiver N’Keal Harry is the only true sophomore in the country to have a touchdown catch in the first 24 games of his career.
I am very nervous about the motivation factor — and maybe, motivation edge — with Graham leading the Sun Devils for one last time. But NC State has its own motivation with a group that has climbed the mountain together to get to this point. A few years ago, the Wolfpack were one of the most inexperienced teams in the ACC with a sub-.500 ACC record; now, that same group finished 6-2 and has a chance to finish with nine wins for the first time under Dave Doeren. If NC State can jump on Arizona State early with its offense and eliminate some of that emotional edge, I think the Wolfpack can cruise to a 10-14 point win.