The Florida State Seminoles will try to avoid a second straight losing season as they take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in the (checks notes) Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl in an ACC-Pac-12 clash. Game time is at 2:00 EST on Tuesday, December 31 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. The game will be nationally televised on CBS.
Oddsmakers list the Sun Devils as 5-point favorites with an over/under of 54.5 points. Click here to get a full list of this year’s bowl schedule and betting odds for every game.
It was another disappointing season for Florida State, one that ultimately cost Willie Taggart his job after two years in Tallahassee. The Seminoles struggled early and often but were eventually able to reach six wins. After seeing their 36-year bowl streak come to an end last year, just getting to a bowl is a step in the right direction as former Memphis coach Mike Norvell prepares to take over after the bowl game.
In the meantime, it’ll be interim Odell Haggins leading the Seminoles into the Sun Bowl. Haggins went 2-1 late in the year after Taggart was fired. He was also the head coach for two wins, including an Independence Bowl victory two years ago after Jimbo Fisher left the program. Despite all of their trouble just getting to a bowl game the last two seasons, FSU is 48-16-3 all-time in bowls. That includes eight wins in their last 10 bowl appearances.
Meanwhile, Arizona State is happy to be going to a bowl game for the second straight year under Herm Edwards. The Sun Devils got off to a promising 5-1 start this season, only to lose four in a row to put their bowl hopes in jeopardy. However, Edwards rallied his team for wins in their last two games, including an upset of Oregon that likely cost the Ducks a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Despite finishing with a losing record in conference play, the Sun Devils went 7-5 for the second straight season. They will now look to put their poor bowl record behind them. ASU is just 5-11 in bowl games since the 1996 season. That includes a loss to Fresno State last year and a Sun Bowl loss to ACC foe NC State two seasons ago. However, Arizona State’s last bowl win came in the 2014 Sun Bowl against Duke.
This will be the second bowl meeting between Florida State and Arizona State. The Sun Devils beat the Seminoles 45-38 in the 1971 Fiesta Bowl. The schools have met three times since then, all FSU wins, with the most recent game coming in 1984.
I’m not going to let ASU’s surprise win over Oregon late in the season fool me. The Sun Devils are still a young team that has some weaknesses that can be exposed. In fairness, the Seminoles have plenty of flaws as well. However, Florida State’s history in bowl games is hard to ignore. The players should also be eager to play hard for Haggins and make an impression in front of Norvell. Straight-up, I might be tempted to lean toward Arizona State, but with an extra five points, I’ll take my chances with FSU beating the spread.
Defensively, I remain unconvinced by Arizona State. They gave up at least 28 points in six of their nine Pac-12 games and often had trouble keeping up with teams that have quality skill players. The ASU pass rush was also a little underwhelming for most of the season. Florida State’s biggest weakness is on the offensive line, but if the Sun Devils can’t take full advantage of that, their defense could struggle.
While the FSU offensive line held them back at times this year, there’s nothing wrong with the rest of the offense. Cam Akers was able to rush for over 1,100 yards despite a lack of help up front. Meanwhile, Tamorrion Terry gives the Seminoles a big-play wide receiver who had over 1,000 receiving yards and excels at getting behind the defense. If quarterback James Blackman can get a little time in the pocket, he should be able to find Tamorrion and some of FSU’s other up-and-coming receivers.
On the other side of the ball, the Sun Devils had trouble most of the season establishing a running game with Eno Benjamin. However, ASU’s biggest problem is that Benjamin is unlikely to play in the Sun Bowl after declaring for the NFL Draft. No other running back on the Arizona State roster had more than 15 carries this season. In other words, the Sun Devils have no idea what to expect from their rushing attack against FSU.
That will shift all of the pressure onto freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels. To his credit, Daniels had an impressive season, limiting himself to just two interceptions while averaging close to nine yards per pass. But he also had some ups and downs this season, including the season finale when the Sun Devils were able to overcome a subpar performance from their quarterback. With the FSU defense no longer having to worry about Benjamin, they can focus all of their energy on slowing down Daniels.
It’s likely to take a stellar effort from both Daniels and the Arizona State defense to win and cover this game. I’m not sure that’s a safe bet against Florida State. Despite all of their problems, there’s no doubting the talent the Seminoles have. This game is a virtual tossup in my eyes, which pushes me toward Florida State as the underdog.