WHO: N.C. State (7-5) vs. Arizona State (7-5)
WHAT: The 84th Hyundai Sun Bowl
WHEN: 3 p.m. ET on CBS
WHERE: Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas
THE SKINNY: Do you like awkwardness? If so, do we have a bowl matchup for you.
Let’s start with the Sun Devils. Despite making the bizarre decision to hire Herm Edwards (who will likely show up in the broadcast booth at some point during the game), former head coach Todd Graham will still be coaching his team in this game as they look to win an eight game for the fourth time in his six-year tenure. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will also be sticking around but will leave the program after the game while offensive coordinator Billy Napier has turned over play-calling duties to Rob Likens after taking a head coaching job at Louisiana-Lafayette.
And that’s not even getting to the actual Sun Devils who will be playing in this one, though there are some pretty good ones. That includes quarterback Manny Wilkins and his favorite target in wideout N’Keal Harry, who is big, fast, physical and can come up with a circus catch if you give him just a sliver of daylight. Running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage are both multipurpose threats out of the backfield and really came on strong to close the regular season.
Across the sideline, the biggest question facing the Wolfpack is if star defensive end Bradley Chubb will play in the game or not. He was one of, if not the, best defenders in college football in 2017 and made the trip with the team but it’s still unknown whether he’ll sit out to avoid injury and focus on the NFL. Chances are he will not play but State still has a really stout group up front even without him in the lineup.
Offensively, quarterback Ryan Finley has really developed nicely and played a big role in the team averaging just over 30 points per game this year. Of course, it helps to have weapons like Nyheim Hines at running back (5.7 ypc) and the super versatile Jaylen Samuels. Both are big play threats with every touch and have the potential to find some space in this game as well.
Given all the strange factors in this one, the Sun Bowl could play out about a dozen different ways. The Wolfpack could play uninspired after making the trip West and there might be an on-field issue if they’re missing their best player. Or it could be the Sun Devils get overly emotional given all that has gone on with their coaching staff leading up to kickoff? Something says they’ll meet somewhere in the middle of all that awkwardness and trade scores for a few drives before NCSU settles down to win things in the second half.
THE PICK: N.C. State 30, Arizona State 17