The Sun Devils are the only Pac-12 team that will be playing before Christmas and can make a statement for a conference that been left out of the College Football Playoff for two-straight years.
The league suffered because of parity this year and each team finished the regular season with at least three losses. Still, the conference is solid from top to bottom and seven of its’ teams have the opportunity to change the perception of the Pac-12 by having a stellar post season. The conference finished 1-8 last year in bowl games.
Arizona State is playing with confidence after winning four of its’ last five games and Herm Edwards has had a solid first year in Tempe. The Sun Devils have a chance to reach eight wins for the first time since 2014. However, Edwards’ boys will be facing a Fresno State squad that’s one of the best Group of Five teams not named Central Florida.
After losing last year’s Mountain West Championship Game, former Pac-12 Coach Jeff Tedford led Fresno State to its’ first league title since 2013. The fact that he inherited a 1-11 team two years ago and led them to 21 wins is magnificent. Fresno State has got it done on defense this season and boasts one of the best units in the nation. Fresno State already beat a Pac-12 team in UCLA during non-conference play and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The Bulldogs are not a Power 5 Bowl team, but they are a quality opponent for the Sun Devils and what the Pac-12 needs to establish momentum early-on in the post season. The Sun Devils have been the surprise team of the Pac-12 this year. Edwards has his boys playing to their potential, which is something Todd Graham could never accomplish during his six-year tenure.
Senior quarterback Manny Wilkins has thrown for 2,849 yards and 19 touchdowns. Sophomore running back Eno Benjamin led the Pac-12 in rushing yards and touchdowns on the ground. Junior wideout N’Keal Harry led the league in receptions and broke over the 1,000-yard mark.
Linebacker Merlin Robertson was Arizona State’s top recruit this season, earned Pac-12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year honors and is tied for second in the Pac-12 with five sacks. Even sophomore kicker Brandon Ruiz is 12-16 on field goals and made all of his extra point attempts.
Edwards has transformed the Sun Devil and the team is averaging 30.8 points per game, has a great rushing attack and second in the league in rushing touchdowns, with 25 scores. Arizona State has played smart football and has thrown the fewest interceptions in the Pac-12.
The spotlight will be on Arizona State this Saturday in the Las Vegas Bowl and the Pac-12 needs a strong showing in the post season to establish back some credibility. Edwards shouldn’t have no problem motivating his players when the team has a chance to snap a two-game bowl losing streak.
A Sun Devil win will have a positive effect on the Pac-12, however a loss would cause more damage to the conference’s reputation. Regardless, the Pac-12 against the Mountain West is always entertaining and classic West Coast football for the fans. This is the most intriguing game of the week.