Brandon Aiyuk

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CFT Previews: Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl

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WHO: Arizona State (7-5) vs. Florida State (6-6)
WHAT: The 86th Sun Bowl
WHEN: Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET on CBS
WHERE: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas
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THE SKINNY: This one is going to be… grrrrrrreat? Ok, maybe the new Sun Bowl sponsor has you thinking that but the latest edition of the venerable game out in West Texas will be a compelling Pac-12/ACC matchup but in truth, NFL Draft departures have taken some of the interest out of this one.

You can start with star FSU tailback Cam Akers, who has been the focal point of the team’s offense since arriving on campus. His absence (along with every other scholarship running back) likely means even more will be placed on the shoulders of quarterback James Blackman as we could see the ‘Noles go full Air Raid as a result.

The Sun Devils are not immune from the draft departures either as two of their best players, RB Eno Benjamin and WR Brandon Aiyukwill be skipping the festivities. The veterans are not only fantastic players capable of taking it to the house on every touch but have been great in helping along freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels. The latter will now be the even more of the show on offense but that’s not a bad thing for either watching this game nor ASU’s budding future.

All of which should make for one of those strangely entertaining games between two somewhat evenly matched teams, talent-wise. Florida State fans fired up about the future under Mike Norvell will definitely be interested to see how hard guys play as they try to impress the incoming staff while Herm Edwards would love to hit eight wins and build further momentum heading into 2020. The Sun Devils are a little closer to full strength and get the added benefit of not having quite as much staff upheaval (though there has been plenty of that), so they get the slight edge coming into this one.

THE PICK: Arizona State 23, Florida State 13

Arizona State makes it three Territorial Cup wins in a row over Arizona

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High scores have been a staple of the Territorial Cup for pretty much a decade but points were at a premium in this year’s edition as Arizona State used a big third quarter run to secure a 24-14 win over rival Arizona and keep the sport’s oldest rivalry trophy in Tempe for a third straight season.

Leading the way was none other than veteran tailback Eno Benjamin, who did most of his damage coming out of the halftime break in notching 168 yards and two touchdown runs. The breakout came after a fairly quiet first half in which his biggest highlight was otherwise blocking a defender all the way, quite literally, onto a bench on the sidelines.

Freshman QB Jayden Daniels was thankful for the efforts of his tailback on an otherwise average night passing, following up his heroics against Oregon to post only 104 yards through the air. Wideout Brandon Aiyuk had a quiet night as well with just five catches for 67 yards.

The disappointing result in the game capped off a similarly disappointing season for the Wildcats. Khalil Tate got the start at quarterback and posted some good numbers (228 yards, 2 TD passing, 78 yards rushing) that were otherwise spoiled by a trio of mistakes (three interceptions). Jamarye Joiner was a nice highlight at least for UA with seven catches for 140 yards and both of the team’s trips to the end zone.

Still, 4-8 in Kevin Sumlin’s second season in Tucson with a pair of losses to the school up the road isn’t exactly what fans had in mind when the former Texas A&M coach was hired and will likely result in a lengthy offseason of soul-searching and plenty of changes before a hot seat-fueled 2020 rolls around.

That is not the case for Herm Edwards and company, who have continued to show progress with an extremely young team. Though the Sun Devils didn’t wind up putting up the kinds of offensive performances we’re used to seeing in this game, that doesn’t matter in the end given that they, well, played to win it no matter what the path was to a victory. That will surely bring a smile to their coach’s face over the coming weeks as the Territorial Cup remains in ASU hands once again.

Arizona leads at halftime over ASU in a low-scoring Territorial Cup

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Arizona State beat Arizona by a point last year in a 41-40 thriller in Tucson. The rematch in this season’s Territorial Cup… would be no such barn-burner.

The Sun Devils wound up trailing at home 7-6 to their rivals down South at the halftime break on Saturday night as it was the defenses that ruled the field this time around.

Khalil Tate got the start at quarterback for the Wildcats and was generally making the most of it, throwing for 125 yards plus a TD and rushing for 53 more despite how tough it was to advance the football. He did toss a bad interception as time was winding down in the half but it was still more output overall than his counterparts were able to manage against a shockingly stingy UA defensive effort.

Making his first appearance in this rivalry series, ASU freshman QB Jayden Daniels was not quite picking up where he left off in that upset of Oregon last week in throwing for 94 yards on 11-of-17 passing. Tailback Eno Benjamin was also held in check with just 26 yards on the ground while big play machine Brandon Aiyuk netted 67 yards on five catches.

So yeah, it’s a little different type of game than a year ago but that doesn’t make it any less competitive as two programs who absolutely do not like each other have a half to play before one of them hoists the oldest rivalry trophy in the sport up.

No. 6 Oregon exits College Football Playoff debate after Arizona State pulls off upset

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“You play to win the game,” Arizona State’s head coach famously once said.

On Saturday night, Herm Edwards’ team did just that, upending No. 6 Oregon 31-28 and throwing the Pac-12’s College Football Playoff hopes back on thin ice in the process.

The Sun Devils simply came up with the big play whenever they needed to in front of their fired up crowd in Tempe, nearly doubling the Ducks’ in total yards, time of possession and red zone appearances. The final score would have looked even more impressive had they been able to covert a few more drives into touchdowns instead of field goals but nobody at ASU will think much of those drives as the fan base parties hard on Mill Avenue well into Sunday morning to celebrate the end result.

Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels came up big once again on the grand stage of a primetime game against a ranked opponent, waiting until the final minutes of the first half to throw his first incompletion and ending the night with 408 yards and a trio of beautiful touchdown throws.

Eno Benjamin paced the effort on the ground with 114 yards but it was the stud wide receivers who really made life difficult against a defense that had been one of the better units in the conference. Brandon Aiyuk was the big threat with 161 yards and the dagger of a touchdown from 81 out with just under four minutes left in the game. Frank Darby wasn’t too shabby either, needing just four receptions to net 125 yards and two scores.

Oregon’s offense, meanwhile, spent most of the evening stuck in neutral before a 21-point fourth quarter nearly salvaged the trip to warmer climates. QB Justin Herbert threw two awful interceptions to keep his team behind the eight ball but finished with a respectable 304 yards and two touchdown passes. Tailback Cyrus Habibi-Likio did punch it into the end zone twice from short yardage but otherwise it was CJ Verdell who led the team in rushing with 99 yards on 13 carries before the team was forced to go over the top with the passing game to rally.

Either way, the game was yet another reminder for the program that such trips to the desert of Arizona have been painful in recent years. The team was blown out in Tucson last season and lost by two in 2017’s visit to Tempe. They did notch a win back in 2015 over ASU but needed triple overtime to do so and came on the heels of another blowout loss to the Wildcats in 2013. Add in being on the wrong side in the BCS title game back in 2011 and the house of horrors the state has been continues unabated this past decade.

The most recent loss snaps Oregon’s nine game win streak in the process and assuredly knocks them from the ranks of the College Football Playoff chase. While they have clinched the Pac-12 North title even with the result, a trip to the Rose Bowl is the best that Mario Cristobal’s program can hope for in 2019.

That’s not at all a bad consolation prize of course but it’s also not quite where fans and players were hoping to end up at either as dreams of the final four went poof in the Phoenix area once again. You play to win the game after all and the Ducks didn’t do that at all against the one guy who has made it a habit to remind folks that is what football is about in the end.

Arizona State testing No. 6 Oregon as Tempe tilt hits halftime

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Oregon’s recent trips to the desert have not gone well at all and the trend looks like it’s continuing on Saturday night.

The No. 6 Ducks had one good offensive drive but otherwise were on their heels as they trailed 10-7 to Arizona State in a rather uneven game for both sides upon reaching the midway mark in Tempe.

Offensively, UO was solid enough but stringing together enough plays to move the sticks consistently wasn’t quite in the cards through two quarters. Justin Herbert threw for 111 yards on 8-of-14 passing but was mostly focused on handing the ball off to the ground game. CJ Verdell had 59 yards on 11 carries, Travis Dye added another 30 and scoring machine Cyrus Habibi-Likio punched in a short touchdown.

Maybe more concerning for the conference and College Football Playoff contenders were the lack of their trademark defense coming through. QB Jayden Daniels didn’t throw an incompletion until the final drive of the half in passing for 191 yards and a TD while scrambling several times for good gains as well. The wideout tandem of Brandon Aiyuk and Frank Darby were particularly effective in breaking out big gains, with the latter already accounting for 99 yards and the lone Sun Devils touchdown.

As a result, as improbable as it seems, ASU took their first lead in a game since Oct. 12 in the closing minute against Washington State. It’s been that kind of run for a team that has dropped four in a row but Herm Edwards’ crew is fired up and playing well enough against one of the conference heavyweights so far.

It goes without saying that Oregon needs to pick things up if they want to escape with a win, much less get a few style points to impress the Selection Committee.