West Virginia v. Arizona State
Chase Field — Phoenix, AZ
January 2, 2016 — 10:15 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
Once the final whistle rings out in Phoenix, only one more game will remain in this year’s college football season. With Sun Devil Stadium undergoing renovations, the Cactus Bowl will take place once again at Chase Field, bringing the total of bowl games played in baseball stadiums to four for the 2015-2016 postseason. It isn’t an ideal situation for the last game before the national championship, but it could be far worse. The local university will get to take on a Big 12 middleweight, providing both regional and national interest. Hopefully you’ve already been in front of the television for the three earlier Saturday games, so you can just keep the television glued to ESPN for an entire day as the games stack up without overlap. Get your fill of college football now, because the buffet is about to close until things resume in September.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
West Virginia Mountaineers
Wendell Smallwood was the engine driving the West Virginia offense, the junior tailback piled up over 1600 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns. The Mountaineers ranked 15th nationally in rushing, the lone bright spot for an otherwise-anemic offense guided by a hit-or-miss quarterback in Skyler Howard. They still scored an average of 10 more points than their opponents, as the defense was especially able to neutralize opponents’ passing games. WVU was among the 10 worst teams in terms of penalty yards accrued, as flags plagued the Mountaineers all season. That energy, however, did result in the 12th-best turnover margin in the country, as West Virginia played on the edge, sometimes the biter and sometimes the bitten. If they can find some discipline, the Mountaineers could make this game interesting in Arizona.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State was a trendy dark-horse pick in the preseason to represent the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff. Then the Sun Devils got blown out in their neutral-site opener against Texas A&M, lost a second to USC to end September, and then suffered through a three-game swoon in the heart of the season to fall completely out of the picture. Quarterback Mike Bercovici, secure in the starter role after splitting time in 2014, threw for 3400 yards and 26 scores, while Demario Richard added 1000 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Only Indiana allowed more passing yards on defense, though, and the Sun Devils ranked 102nd in yards allowed despite fielding a top-20 rush defense and gave up nearly 33 points per contest. At least Arizona State was great at keeping the ball as long as possible on offense, and did not shoot itself in the foot by taking too many penalties.
What is Likely to Happen
So it isn’t the playoff, but Arizona State still gets one hell of a matchup and a payday just for reaching six wins in 2015. Just like in the bowl game that precedes this one, Vegas is effectively at a loss as to where to lay points, making this a straight-up pick. If West Virginia had a more solid passing attack, they could take advantage of one of the country’s worst defenses when the ball is in the air. Instead, WVU is dependent on the running game, exactly where the ASU defense is strongest. Look for Mike Bercovici to find space in the Mountaineer secondary to distribute the ball to his playmakers, as Devin Lucien and the rest of the receivers make Dana Holgorsen’s staff scratch their heads in exasperation. Unless the Mountaineers can take advantage of their opportunistic defense and snag a timely turnover or two, the local side is likely to walk away victorious in this penultimate college competition of the season.
Arizona State 31, West Virginia 27
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