The Sun Bowl, on December 29, 2017, will feature the N.C. State Wolfpack facing off with the Arizona State Sun Devils. This will be the seventh straight year this bowl pits the ACC versus the Pac-12. Along with the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl, the Sun Bowl is the second oldest bowl game only behind the Rose Bowl.
Sun Bowl Preview
Each of these schools finished second in their division, behind their conference’s eventual champions. The Wolfpack are 8-4 overall while the Sun Devils come in a 7-5. Both schools are averaging over 30 points per game and ended the regular season with a victory over their instate rival. On paper these teams look evenly matched and prepared to put up points. If that holds up the Sun Bowl could be an exciting kickoff to a fun filled college football weekend.
Leading the Pack
N.C. State is led by its defensive line, most notably All-American Bradley Chubb. The Nagurski Award winner had his second consecutive season with 10 sacks and over 20 tackles-for-loss (TFL). Chubb spearheads a defense that has struggled down the stretch. The Wolfpack have lost three of their last five games, giving up 30 or more points in each loss. For the season, they allow 25 points and 377 yards per contest. They have allowed over 220 yards on the ground in three of the last five games after being stout against the run most of the season.
Putting Up Numbers
The Wolfpack had both a 3000 yard passer in Ryan Finley, and a 1000 yard rusher in Nyheim Hines in 2017. Their balance has been key to an offense that averaged 30 points a game. Balance is the best way to describe N.C. State’s offensive approach. The Wolfpack have five receivers who have grabbed between 25 and 69 catches, with Kelvin Harmon leading the way. The 6’3 sophomore gained 993 yards on 65 catches, and was one of three players with four touchdown receptions.
Hines emerged at tailback this year, averaging 5.7 yards per carry en route to his 1,040 yards and nine scores on the ground. He had five 100+ yards games, including a career high 196 yards in the season finale win over North Carolina. H-Back Jaylen Samuels was a jack of all trades for the Wolfpack. His 69 receptions led the team, and he had 15 total scores, 11 on the ground and four thru the air. N.C. State will line Samuels up in a variety of positions, and he is often the man Finley looks for on third downs.
Devil is in the Details
Arizona State comes into the Sun Bowl in an interesting predicament. There is never a consistent response when a team enters a bowl game after losing the head coach. The Sun Devils fired Todd Graham and replaced him with former NFL coach and ESPN analyst Herm Edwards after the conclusion of the regular season. Will the players be focused and motivated when the coaching staff is in a situation of flux? Will they want to show out to make an impression on the incoming staff? Those are questions that won’t be answered until kickoff.
Hot Like the Sun
The Sun Devils offense comes in on quite a hot streak. They scored 37 or more points in each of their final four games, winning three of them. Can that momentum carry over through bowl practice? That will be an interesting factor as to how this game plays out. Arizona State is similar to the Wolfpack in that balance is the key to their offensive attack. Manny Wilkins threw for just under 3000 yards. Tailback Demario Richard rushed for just under a 1000 yards. Sophomore N’Keal Harry led the receiving corps with 73 catches for exactly 1000 yards and seven scores. Tailback Kalen Ballage and wide-out Kyle Williams each chipped in with over 670 yards and 6 scores from their respective positions.
Sun Bowl Shootout in El Paso
The Sun Bowl has a good chance to become a high scoring affair. The Arizona State mindset will go a long way in determining this game’s flow and outcome. Based on talent the Sun Devils could give the Wolfpack defense plenty to worry about. If they can hold their own up front and keep Chubb and company out of their backfield, they have the weapons to make plays. N.C. State will look to utilize its balance to keep a Sun Devil defense allowing 31 points per game on it’s heels. This match-up between the ACC and PAC-12 has the potential to be a entertaining appetizer to a feast of bowl games over the New Year’s weekend.