Arizona State vs. Duke: Sun Bowl Preview
Arizona State (9-3) vs. Duke (9-3)
Dec. 27, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)
• Reason to watch: Where else are you going to see two teams battle for devil superiority and the rights to the entire sun? That alone should provide plenty of intrigue for three and a half hours in the lull between Christmas and New Year’s Day. There’s also the fact that this is an Almost Bowl. Both the Sun Devils and the Blue Devils were a handful of plays from winning their divisions (Arizona State in the Pac-12 South and Duke in the ACC Coastal) and ended up losing games they probably shouldn’t have (the Sun Devils at Oregon State on Nov. 15; Duke against Virginia Tech on Nov. 15 and North Carolina on Nov. 20). The results kept them out of their respective conference championship games.
• Keep an eye on: Arizona State wideout Jaelen Strong (75 catches, 1,062 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) doesn’t get the hype of Alabama’s Amari Cooper, West Virginia’s Kevin White or even Louisville’s DeVante Parker, but he’s good for at least one highlight-reel grab a game. Given his unique mix of size, speed and body control, Strong is capable of snagging one-handed touchdowns and Hail Marys, or of corralling screen passes and taking them all the way to the house. He has done all of these things at various points in his college career, and he’s at his best when all eyes are on him.
• Did you know: Duke has a chance to win 10 games in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. Its nine wins in two straight years are already a team record, although there were quite a few times the Blue Devils put up a combined 16 or 17 wins in back-to-back seasons under former coach Wallace Wade when the school was in the Southern Conference. Duke’s three straight bowls appearances are also a first (although it lost the previous two). This is the world in which we live now. Duke is good at football and will probably continue to be good for a while, so long as David Cutcliffe remains at the helm.
• Final analysis: Big plays won’t be hard to come by in this one, as both Duke and Arizona State have plenty of athletes and can put points up in a hurry. The Sun Devils will try to get more consistent quarterback play from Taylor Kelly, who hopes to end his career on a high note after being shelved for backup Mike Bercovici in the team’s regular-season finale against Arizona. If the Sun Devils get solid production from running backs D.J. Foster and Demario Richard, that should free up Kelly to connect with Strong and Cameron Smith. For Duke it’s a matter of sustaining drives, finding Jamison Crowder in space and slowing Arizona State. The Blue Devils topped 30 points just once in their final four games.
• The pick: Arizona State 31, Duke 28