West Virginia (7-5) vs Arizona State (6-6)
When: Saturday, January 2nd 2016
Where: Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ
Time: 10:10 ET | TV: ESPN
The 40th and final Bowl game takes place tonight in Phoenix as West Virginia battles Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl. The Mountaineers played well down the stretch and would be 7-1 if you didn’t count October. They played the toughest part of their schedule that month (TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) and lost all four. TCU and Baylor gained over 600 yards in each of their games, but West Virginia only allowed 265.7 yards a game over their last three and held each of those opponents under 100 yards rushing. They also allowed only 30 total points in the last three games in which they went 2-1. The defense was second in all of FBS with 31 takeaways and 23 interceptions and can tie a school record with one more interception. The Mountaineers have the 14th best rushing attack in the nation led by Wendell Smallwood. The junior ran for 1,447 yards and 9 touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards a carry. Quarterback Skyler Howard also contributed in the run game with 479 yards and six touchdowns while throwing at least one TD in every game but one. West Virginia scored 30 or more points eight times this season winning seven of those games.
Arizona State racked up a lot of points this season, but also gave up quite a few. The 32.7 points a game they allowed ranks 97th in FBS and were dead-last (128th) in passing yards allowed (321.7). The Sun Devils are terrific against the run and actually lead the nation in sacks per game (3.67), but when they don’t get to the quarterback, they’re in trouble. They’ve allowed at least 449 total yards in five straight games including a season-high 680 in a 48-46 loss at California in the regular-season finale. QB Mike Bercovici had a terrific senior season passing for 3,436 yards, 26 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while spreading the ball around. Three different receivers caught 50 or more passes – Devin Lucien (57 receptions, 931 yards, 7 TDs), D.J. Foster (54 receptions, 544 yards, 3 TDs), and Tim White (53 receptions, 554 yards, 6 TDs). Running back Demario Richard (1,056 rushing yards, 7 TDs) has topped 100 yards rushing in seven straight games including 131 on 33 carries against Cal. Arizona State had a signature win at UCLA this season, but couldn’t beat the other top teams in the South – Utah and USC.
This should be a high-scoring affair, but in the end, Arizona State just gives up too many big plays. West Virginia should be able to force a few turnovers and win this game.
Pick: West Virginia -2