The Arizona State Sun Devils have enjoyed great success in head coach Todd Graham's second season, but the Sun Devils still have a bit of unfinished business leading into the 2013 Holiday Bowl. Arizona State wants to end the season on a high note, so we polled our writers and asked them what the greatest incentive for the Sun Devils is to close out the year with a victory.
Kerry Crowley: The Holiday Bowl has become famous for Pac-12 letdowns as teams that nearly make the Rose Bowl often show up to play an underwhelming opponent and then fall flat on their faces. I think that this Arizona State team is different than most other schools that have fallen short of the Rose Bowl in recent memory, because the Sun Devils' success has not been sustained over a long period of time. Arizona State has really made strides under Todd Graham, and I think the Sun Devils understand that winning the Holiday Bowl is a stepping stone toward ultimately competing annually for a spot in the Rose Bowl.
For me, the biggest incentive for Arizona State to win the Holiday Bowl would be to build momentum into the offseason. A bowl game loss can leave a sour taste in the mouths of players and the Sun Devils want to hit the ground running in spring ball. The Sun Devils will definitely be a contender in the Pac-12 next year and to finish off a season with 11 wins and a bowl game victory would solidify their status. Without beating up on Texas Tech, the season might feel incomplete and that's the exact opposite of what Todd Graham is trying to accomplish. Graham demands the Sun Devils finish every rep and every play to the best of their abilities, and I think he'll have Arizona State ready to finish the season that way as well.
Danny Shapiro: I think ASU's biggest incentive for winning the Holiday Bowl is to further cement the foundation Todd Graham has put in place since his arrival in Tempe. This program is headed in a good direction so an 11th victory, which has happened just five times in its history, will reaffirm the belief to current players, recruits and fans alike that this is a top-notch program. ASU finished strong last season by winning its last three games, including pounding Navy 62-28 in the bowl game. This season has had a similar tone with ASU winning its final seven regular season games before falling to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. Another strong bowl performance will hopefully give ASU enough momentum to move to new heights next season.
Obviously, ASU will lose key players on both sides of the ball, especially defensively. If the current players and Graham can get to 11 wins in year two, though, then the spark that's been present in the program throughout this season will translate to following seasons.
Nick Krueger: The biggest incentive for this team has to be proving themselves. This team has been through a lot whether it was the loss of the ship captain Steve Patterson in the middle of the season or key injuries such as Marion Grice late in the season, or (yes, I'll say it but note I'm not questioning his character) the play of Will Sutton who did not meet expectations this season. This team and coaching staff have battled hard. In fact, I don't believe the national media gave this team the attention it deserved until the Pac-12 Championship game when numerous talking heads had the Sun Devils beating the Cardinal and going to the Rose Bowl.
The one person who I think has the most to prove is Todd Graham. People in and around Tempe and the program know what Graham is about but he's still flying under the radar on a national level due to his pattern of leaving for greener pastures quickly. Winning the Holiday Bowl would be the first time Graham has won back-to-back bowls since he won the GMAC bowl twice with Tulsa in 2007 and 2008. What would be a 5-1 record in bowl games and a 68 percent winning percentage for his career on top of coming one game away from a Rose Bowl is impressive. I don't think Graham can be ignored anymore as one of the best both on the field and off with a Holiday Bowl win.
Nick Marek: I would say the biggest incentive is proving that Arizona State can rebound after a big loss. Three loses on the season and two came to the Cardinal who will play two days later in the Rose Bowl. At first, everyone is frustrated that Sparky won't be in Pasadena, but in reality, an 11-win season would still be an 11-win season. That would keep Arizona State on the map and would draw some more national attention. Texas Tech may sound like a good bowl game, but I think people freak out too much over "Texas" in a school's name this year (Sorry Johnny Football). But coach Graham loves playing Texas schools because of his recruiting pipeline so that's always a bonus.
Back to the point. The reason I say rebounding is a big component of this bowl game is because the team (especially on defense) is extremely experienced and this team needs to learn how to keep winning those big games so when players like Chans Cox take the field in 2014, they won't be as flustered. A win means keeping pace with UCLA and USC for the Pac-12 South title next year because the more recognition ASU gets, the more 18-year-old stars will want to wear maroon and gold.
Ryan Bafaloukos: Todd Graham has expressed all season long how special this senior class is and I believe the biggest incentive for Arizona State is to send the seniors out with a victory. Guys like Alden Darby, Will Sutton, Osahon Irabor, Gannon Conway, Marion Grice, Kevin Ozier, I think Arizona State will be playing for them when they suit up against the Red Raiders. For some of them it will be the final meaningful game of football they will play. I would say there is extra motivation for the younger guys to send the seniors out with a victory.
The other incentive I see for Arizona State against Texas Tech is building momentum for 2014. We all know what a trouncing of Navy did for this team. It built confidence and resonated with the team throughout the offseason. A bowl victory just puts a positive attitude in the weight room during the offseason and it can only impress recruits. The Sun Devils are playing in Southern California where they compete with the likes of USC, UCLA and Oregon for prospects. And Arizona State is playing Texas Tech, which it competes for prospects with in the state of Texas. So even though this game seems one-sided on paper, there is still a lot to play for.
Cody Ulm: The common theme in everyone's responses is the future and that's hitting the nail on the head. Even after the reality check that was the Pac-12 Championship, this Arizona State program is carrying more momentum than it has in a long, long time. Now, much like CTG did last year, it's important to display what this team is capable of after getting a few extra practice sessions under their belt.
Believe it or not, the Sun Devils aren't firing on all cylinders yet on either offense or defense. Graham and his coaching staff are only in year two and he's proclaimed multiple times that it would take at least three years to mold the program precisely to his liking. But just like with the Navy massacre, the Holiday Bowl will provide ample opportunity for Graham to further his vision. Not only will that catch the eyes of recruits, it will also leave an agreeable taste in the mouths of the maroon and gold nation heading into another long offseason. And following the Stanford loss, the timing for Graham to push the potential of Arizona State football couldn't be more perfect.