Let’s get the silliness out of the way first. The Sun Bowl is NOT named after a corporate sponsor or product. Yes, it is actually named after a corporate logo. The game is not the Kellogg’s Sun Bowl, or the Frosted Flakes Sun Bowl. It is actually the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl. Ironically, with dozens and dozens of teams nicknamed the Tigers, none of them were chosen for this game. Instead we have the Arizona State Sun Devils from the Pac 12, and The Florida State Seminoles from the ACC.
Sun Bowl Preview
Know The Sun Bowl
The Sun Bowl is actually the second oldest bowl game in the country, (behind the Rose Bowl), having started in 1936. The game is played at the Sun Bowl Stadium on the University of Texas El Paso campus. Since 2011, the game has automatic conference tie-ins with the ACC and the Pac 12. It goes to the fifth place Pac 12 team and the committee can choose any team from fourth to eighth in standings from the ACC. It is traditionally played on New Year’s Eve day. This year the game will be at 2pm eastern time on CBS.
Arizona State and Florida State have met four times previously. The Seminoles hold a 3-1 edge.
The Sun Devils come into the game at 7-5 overall and 4-5 in conference play. They finished in third place in the Pac 12 South.
Herm Edwards, in his second year as head coach, has maneuvered constantly changing waters in Tempe. In addition to having 17 players enter the transfer portal since last year, he has also had to overhaul the coaching staff. In December, Edwards fired the brunt of his offensive coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Rob Likens. Edwards said at the time that the offense was not producing enough points with the talent they had. He expected 30+ points per game and was getting 25. Two weeks later defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales left to take the head coaching job at New Mexico.
Assistant coaches Shaun Aguano and Dave Christensen will serve as co-offensive coordinators for the bowl game. The Sun Devils have hired former Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill to take over as offensive coordinator, and he has helped in Sun Bowl prep. Defensive passing game coordinator Tony White has been elevated to defensive coordinator.
The Sun Devils will be missing one piece of their offensive talent when they take the field Tuesday. The team’s leading receiver Brandon Aiyuk has opted to sit out the game and begin his preparations for the NFL. That leaves junior Frank Darby as the primary target for freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels. Darby has 28 catches for 597 yards and eight touchdowns on the season.
As for Daniels, he has been electrifying at times this season. He threw for 2,748 yards and 17 touchdowns against only two interceptions. His big game of the year came in Arizona State’s upset win over Oregon in late November. He was 22 of 32 for 408 and three touchdowns as the Sun Devils knocked the Ducks out of playoff contention.
The Sun Devils also have one of the better workhorses around in the backfield in junior running back Eno Benjamin. He has 553 carries for 2,725 yards (4.9 yards per) over the past two seasons, and has declared for the NFL draft, but expects to play Tuesday.
The Seminoles know turnover. They fired head coach Will Taggart in November, about a year-and-a-half into his Tallahassee coaching tenure. Defensive assistant Odell Haggins ran the team the rest of the season and will do so for the Sun Bowl also. He was 4-1 as the interim head coach. FSU has hired new head coach Mike Norvell, (from Memphis), and he has taken part in the pre-bowl prep, but will not really take over the on-field reigns until after the bowl game.
Florida State is also going into the game with no scholarship running backs in the line-up. Leading rusher Cam Akers is sitting out the game as he preps for the pros. Khalan Laborn had knee surgery at the end of the season. Anthony Grant left the team for much of the 2019 season and his status going forward is unknown. Florida State’s defense ranks next to last in the conference in sacks, Haggins figures to have plenty of room to work with for both quarterbacks.
The Seminoles need the win to avoid back-to-back losing seasons. It would be their first time since the early 1970’s for that.