Duke Blue Devils (9-3 SU, 7-4-1 ATS) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (9-3 SU, 6-6 ATS)
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Date and Time: Saturday, December 27, 2014, 2:00 pm EST
Where: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Duke +7.5/ASU -7.5
Over/Under Total: 65.5
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Two teams hoping to reach that magical 10-win plateau in college football will battle in the 2014 Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on the 27th, when the AACs Duke Blue Devils face the PAC 12 s Arizona Sun Devils in a devil of a matchup on CBS.
For Arizona State, a potential 10-win season would be their second in a row under head coach Todd Graham and a third consecutive bowl appearance for the Sun Devils since Graham took over in Tempe. This will also be the Sun Devils fifth appearance in the Sun Bowl, having beat Purdue in their last trip there in 2004, despite being just 2-1-1 in their previous four trips. Arizona State had their hopes set on a New Years Day bowl, but losses in two of their last three games of the season including a demoralizing one to rival Arizona in the finale for the Territorial Cup, 42-35, cost the Sun Devils a chance at a larger payday and a more prestigious post-season game.
For Duke a potential 10-win season would also be their second in a row, but it would only be the second one ever in school history after coach David Cutcliffe delivered the first one ever in 2013. This is Dukes first ever Sun Bowl appearance, and third straight bowl game under Cutcliffe, who has gotten the football program turned around at a basketball school after the Blue Devils went 13 years without a post-season bowl game invite. Duke has also struggled down the stretch, losing a shot at the ACCs Coastal title with losses to Virginia Tech and in-state rival North Carolina before winning their finale against Wake Forest, 41-21.
The trouble the Blue Devils run into most often is that most bettors still consider them a lousy team, even though they are on the cusp of a second consecutive 10-win season. It hasnt been as much of a problem convincing oddsmakers though, since they were pegged as the favorite in nine of their 12 games this season.
But not in this game. Arizona State opened as 8-point favorites and the point spread has held pretty close to that original number for weeks, although most sportsbooks have dropped it down to Arizona State minus -7.5 currently. There are even a few sportsbooks on the Web that have moved the spread down to minus -7, but you can find this game anywhere along the -7 to -8 range depending on where you look.
The over/under total opened at 67.5 and it too has dropped since the beginning, falling all the way down to 65 or 65.5 where it currently sits at most sportsbooks.
Offensively the Sun Devils will be expected to score a lot of points for this game, seeing that they averaged 37 points per game during the PAC 12 season. However, Graham threw sort of a monkey wrench into handicapping this game when he benched starting quarterback Taylor Kelly in the Arizona game in favor of Mike Bercovici for the Sun Devils second half comeback. Bercovici played well in place of Kelly, both in the finale and in the three games Kelly missed this season with an injured foot, but even so Graham has gone on record as saying Kelly would get the Sun Bowl starting nod.
Arizona State also boasts a 1,000-yard rusher in D.J. Foster and a 1,000-yard receiver in Jaelen Strong, and both also have double-digit touchdowns too, so offense and points are two things the Sun Devils should provide for the Sun Bowl crowd. However, theyll face a Duke defense thats easily the best unit on their team. The Blue Devils defense is especially strong down the middle with LB David Helton and S Jeremy Cash, and really stiff against the pass (allow 204 ypg 36th), so Arizona State wont be able to march the ball down the field at will by any means.
Dukes offense is far from flashy, but they are pretty balanced (215 ypg passing 183 ypg running) and they certainly put plenty of points up on the board averaging 32.5 points a game (45th in FBS). Receiver Jamison Crowder, all 5-fott-9 and 175 pounds of him, is by far the Blue Devils most dynamic weapon on offense with nearly 1,000 yards on the season (942) and six scores. Arizona States defense was one of the weakest in the PAC 12 this season and the main reason they failed to reach a New Years Day game. They are especially weak against the pass (allow 262 ypg 106th), so the Blue Devils senior quarterback Anthony Boone (2,507 yards, 17 TD) will try and take advantage of that weakness.
This will be the first meeting of these two schools on the gridiron, so historical data and head-to-head trends are hard to come by for this game.
Arizona State has been a lousy wager in their bowl history, going 1-5 ATS in their last six bowl games and 2-8 ATS in the last 1o games theyve played in the month of December. Duke meanwhile is a solid 4-1-1 ATS in non-conference games. As you would expect with one team being mostly all offense, and the other one fielding a strong defense over and under trends are very dependent on which team youre looking at. Arizona State has gone over in five of their last six neutral site games (5-1), whereas Duke has played under the total in six of their last eight games overall (6-2) and in nine of their last 11 following a SU win.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Most of the money that has already come in for this game is coming in on Arizona State, yet the point spread has dropped a full point at most sportsbooks. Usually when that happens, it means sharp money is pushing back against public money. Arizona State has the flashy offense, the noisier head coach and the larger football following but none of that wins bowl games. It may be unpopular, but I dont think Duke will lose this game by more than a touchdown, their defense is better than they get credit for. Im taking Duke plus the 7.5 points, especially since Im getting the extra half point.