Las Vegas Bowl.
Despite the disparity in records, these two squads match up well, especially if you subscribe to the theory that Power Five teams such as Arizona State have a leg up on lower conference programs in the talent department. Oddsmakers are believers in the strength of Fresno State, who are currently 5-point favorites.
Let’s take a look at what should be an entertaining bowl game between two solid programs.
Arizona State vs. Fresno State, 3:30 PM EST, Sat. December 15, ABC
Arizona State vs. Fresno State pick:
Arizona State started off the season with a record of 3-4, and bowl eligibility looked like far from a sure thing as a result. Head coach Herm Edwards would right the ship from that point, and the Sun Devils closed things out on a high note by winning four of its last five.
Fresno State was much more consistent in 2018, a regular season which was punctuated by a seven-game winning streak. A big highlight of that run was a 38-14 beatdown of UCLA. The club would go on to win three of its final four from that point, and they were able to avenge their regular season loss to Boise State by taking down their rivals by a score of 19-16 in overtime of the conference title clash.
|Record||Conf. Rec.||PF||PA||Streak||Standings||CFP Rank|
|Arizona State||7-5||5-4||369||301||W1||2-P12 South||NA|
|Fresno State||11-2||7-1||454||178||W3||1-MW West||#21|
It was looking like nothing more than a transition year for Arizona State before they turned it on at the end. They ripped off three straight wins over conference foes USC, Utah, and UCLA before dropping a close one to Oregon. In the regular season finale, the Sun Devils took down in-state rival Arizona by a score of 41-40.
Fresno State kicked off the regular season with a blowout win over Idaho, but they would come out flat the following week while going down to defeat to Minnesota. Rival Boise State would snap its seven-game winning streak later in the year, a game in which Fresno State entered as road favorites. The club would bounce back with three straight wins to close out 2018 as Mountain West champs.
We can give Fresno State the edge on both sides of the ball. Arizona State gets the nod when it comes to rushing, but Fresno State’s overall offense is more prolific. The Bulldogs have had a stellar season on defense, but pressure for and against is close to a toss-up. Turnovers and penalties are in the same neighborhood as well, so we can put another check mark in the evenly-matched box.
There’s no head-to-head action to break down for these two programs, so we’ll move right along to recent bowl history. Arizona State faced off with NC State in last year’s Sun Bowl, and they had their clocks cleaned to the tune of 52-31.
Fresno State fared much better in last year’s bowl game, as they took down Houston by a margin of 33-27 in the Hawaii Bowl. In last year’s edition of the Las Vegas Bowl, Boise State took down Oregon 38-28 in a game in which the Broncos were 7-point underdogs.
The underdog won in 2016 as well, as 4.5-point favorite Houston fell to San Diego State by a score of 34-10. The favorite ruled the day in 2015, as 2.5-point favorite Utah took down BYU by a margin of 35-28.
One other note to consider: Sun Devils stud wideout N’Keal Harry has opted to skip this game to focus on the 2019 NFL Draft. It’s a big loss for Arizona State, as Harry is the club’s leading receiver and a huge part of the offense. On the season, Harry hauled in 73 balls for 1,088 yards and nine TDs, and he added on a rushing score for good measure.
Next man up philosophy naturally suggests the Sun Devils will adjust their focus, but the team’s chances are certainly impacted by the loss of a top player. To break through the Bulldogs stout defense, all hands on deck would be a nice luxury to have, but that’s simply not the case here.
On paper, Fresno State looks like the stronger squad, and they enter this contest on a high note after taking down the Mountain West crown. While a letdown is certainly possible, the overall strength of the team in 2018 points to that being unlikely. If we add in the body blow that Arizona State received in the form of Harry’s decision to forego the bowl contest, the Bulldogs should keep the good times rolling in Las Vegas.
We’ll take Fresno State minus the points.