NATIONAL UNIVERSITY HOLIDAY BOWL: Texas Tech vs Arizona State

Kent Horner

The Texas Tech Red Raiders are set to square off against the 14th ranked Arizona State Sun Devils on December 30th, at 10:15pm ET, in the National University Holiday Bowl. This is only the second meeting between the two programs.

The Holiday Bowl traditionally puts the #5 Big 12 team against the #3 PAC 12 team, but Texas Tech is being bumped up this year due to the Big 12 receiving two BCS bids.

The Red Raiders, and their new coach with movie star swagger, started off the season red hot. After a 7-0 start Kingsbury had more than just the ladies swooning. The season's first BCS poll opened with TTU ranked in the top 10, but that wasn't without criticism.

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Texas Tech was considered to be overrated by many. After all, they had yet to be tested. Their non-conference schedule was weak at best with games against SMU, SF-Austin, and Texas State. None of them finished with a winning record. In fact, none of the opponents in the Red Raiders seven game win streak finished above .500 on the year.

The schedule was definitely back loaded for TTU, and the doubters didn't have to wait long to say I told you so. Tech didn't win another game. To say the final stretch was rough is an understatement. After a tough loss against Oklahoma, the Raiders got stomped their final four games. You have to wonder about the confidence of a team that failed to beat anyone with a winning record.

The Red Raiders will also be entering the Bowl game without their fantastic Freshman QB. Overshadowed by the news of Mack Brown's possible resignation, Baker Mayfield announced last week he will be transferring. The news came after Kliff Kingsbury stated that Michael Brewer would get the start for the Bowl game. The walk-on won the starting job in fall camp and had an incredible year before a knee injury sidelined him for four games. There is no word yet on where Mayfield will land.

Arizona State has put together a great season under second-year Head Coach Todd Graham.

The Sun Devils opened the season 3-2, and it wasn't clear just what to expect from ASU. They grabbed a win against #20 Wisconsin in Week 2, but it was with a highly controversial finish.

After the big win, ASU traveled to Stanford, and suffered their first loss of the season.

The ups and downs continued when ASU bounced back by depantsing USC in what was to be Lane Kiffin's last game as the Coach of the Trojans. The next week Notre Dame came calling and escaped Tempe, AZ with a win.

The Sparky faithful believed they could be a PAC 12 contender, but the rest of the nation wasn't so sure.

ASU soon put all doubts to rest. They went on a seven game win streak, including big wins over #20 Washington and #14 UCLA. Winning the PAC 12 South put the Sun Devils in a rematch with the Cardinal for the PAC 12 Championship. In the end, Stanford was destined for the Rose Bowl and ASU finished an impressive 10-3.

As good as Arizona State's been this season they do enter the bowl game with some questions. Namely, will Marion Grice be ready to play? The standout back suffered a knee injury in the game against UCLA. He's a big part of bringing balance to the Sun Devil offense. At this point things look good, and his return is probable.

There is also the distraction of whether or not Todd Graham could leave for Texas. There's several reasons why he would be a good fit to replace Mack Brown. Coach Graham has proven he can turn around a program in a hurry, and not just at ASU. He took Tulsa to a Bowl game 3 of the 4 years he was there. He also knows how to recruit Texas, he has family in Texas, and he has a good relationship with the new Texas AD.

However, when Steve Patterson left Arizona State to be the Athletic Director at Texas he made an agreement with the ASU president that he wouldn't poach any of the Sun Devil's coaching staff. That should end all speculation right? Wrong. It's nothing money can't fix, and while that's a just a saying for most, it's a way of life for Texas. So, until the Longhorns hire a new Head Coach, the distraction will continue.

Texas Tech limps into the Holiday Bowl, while Arizona State had their best season since '07. Are these two teams as far apart as we're led to believe? Let's look at the tale of the tape to see how they compare.

I'll be honest, unless they put a tree on their logo, things don't look great for Texas Tech. The only advantage for the Red Raiders appears to be their offensive production. More specifically, their 2nd ranked passing attack. They've been able to air the ball out all season, but at the expense of any resemblance of a rushing attack.

It will be interesting to see how Michael Brewer performs at QB after only attempting 10 passes all season. Davis Webb is a competent back up, but Tech can ill afford a slow start. ASU has been getting out of the gates hot all season.

Arizona State's 2nd quarter scoring production is over 14 points per game. In fact, when it comes to scoring, the Sun Devils have the advantage on both sides of the ball. ASU is out scoring Texas Tech by 5.3 points per game, and allowing 5.4 fewer points while doing it.

TEXAS TECH KEYS TO THE GAME

Confidence. To have any chance in this game they have to believe they can win. That sounds obvious, but after losing five in a row, it can become more about the mental aspect than physical ability to compete.

Win 3rd down, and stay on the field. They won't be able to rely on their 86th ranked defense to keep them in the game, and they can't afford for the defense to get gassed.

Win the turnover battle. This is easier said than done as ASU has the advantage in turnover margin +1.08 to -1.08.

Don't hold back. Empty out the entire play book. Go all Boise State on them. Even in the loss to OU most people were impressed with Kliff Kingsbury and his riverboat gambler attitude.

ARIZONA STATE KEYS TO THE GAME

Run the ball. The Raiders rush defense ranks 96th in the country. Establish the run and break their will to be there. Obviously Grice's return to the line up would make this much easier.

Get pressure on the QB. Both QB's are likely to get rattled and make mistakes under pressure. Brewer spent the majority of the season on the sidelines, and Webb is a Freshman. This will be his first time in a Bowl environment.

It seems that Arizona State has the edge in nearly every facet of the game, and that doesn't change comparing the matchup historically.

The Big 12 Bowl match-ups are extremely tough this year, with 3 of the 6 teams being double digit dogs. Arizona State is a 14 point favorite. If Tech can pull off the upset it would be huge for the conference reputation. Especially in a year when the Big 12 rep has taken some blows.

CRFF PREDICTIONS:

CHRIS ROSS: Arizona State
WHETSELL: Arizona State
HATCO COWBOY: Arizona State
CORY TREECE: Texas Tech
GRAHAM COFFELT: Arizona State
EVAN JONES: Arizona State

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