Herm Edwards’ first season as Arizona State’s football coach was not the embarrassment some predicted.
The Sun Devils (7-5) crushed their preseason win total (4½), beating the more heralded hire Kevin Sumlin and rival Arizona in the process.
Let’s hope Arizona State fans have strong hearts, because nine of the team’s 12 games were decided by a touchdown or less.
The Sun Devils are 5½-point underdogs against Mountain West champion Fresno State in Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. Arizona State star receiver N’Keal Harry (1,088 yards, nine touchdowns) is sitting out to prep for the NFL draft, and the team’s No. 2 option, Kyle Williams (432 yards, one TD), is not the same threat.
That puts the onus on running back Eno Benjamin, who has rushed for 1,524 yards and 15 TDs. But Fresno State features the No. 5 rush defense in the country, per the S&P+ ratings, and ranks second in marginal explosiveness.
Two opponents have scored more than 21 points on Fresno State: Toledo (in a 49-27 Fresno win) and Boise State (in a 24-17 Fresno loss).
The Sun Devils defense has not held an opponent below 20 points since Sept. 8 against Michigan State. Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion (25-3 TD-interception ratio, 69.8 percent completion rate) will be able to move the ball.
I like the Bulldogs to win by double digits.
Four more plays:
Alabama-Birmingham (-2½) over Northern Illinois: The Huskies were fortunate to beat Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference championship because of an ill-conceived prevent defense and pressure by Northern Illinois’ defensive line. UAB’s secondary won’t be as forgiving, and the Blazers’ pass rush might be better than the Huskies’. UAB’s defense and special teams should dominate, and I expect the Blazers to grind down Northern Illinois and eventually win with good field position and a relentless running game. Coach Rod Carey is 0-5 ATS in bowl games for the Huskies.
Middle Tennessee State (+7) over Appalachian State: This is the final time that Rick Stockstill will get to coach his son, QB Brent Stockstill, at Middle Tennessee State. The senior has thrown for 12,165 yards and 105 TDs in his career. The Blue Raiders will be motivated, and their offense has played their best football in their past four games. That will come in handy against a stout Appalachian State defense. Scott Satterfield has moved on to coach Louisville, along with the team’s defensive coordinator and co-offensive coordinator. I expect a low-scoring game, and this is too many points to give a motivated underdog.
North Texas (+7½) over Utah State: Matt Wells took almost the entire Utah State staff with him to Texas Tech, even though some of them will have limited involvement in the bowl game. The interim Aggies coach is the defensive line coach, and he’s acting as the “bridge” in recruiting. Early signing period is less than 3½ days after this game, so we’ll see where his focus is, as this is more responsibility than he’s ever had. Unders are 11-1 in North Texas games, and both quarterbacks are efficient and should chew up clock on underneath throws.
San Diego State (+3) over Ohio: The Bobcats are perhaps the most effective rushing team in the country that does not utilize the triple option. Three players have rushed for more than 825 yards on at least 6.2 yards per carry. San Diego State’s run defense ranks ninth in the S&P+ ratings. The Aztecs offense will benefit from playing a weak Ohio side and also from the rest it got after the roster sustained heavy injuries all season.
Last week: 3-2
Christopher Smith of AL.com, NOLA.com and MyBookie is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow @cfblocksmith on Twitter.