No. 14 Arizona State (10-3, 8-1 in Pac-12 regular season play) vs. Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5 in Big 12)
Kickoff: 7:15 P.M. PST/8:15 MST/ 10:15 EST
Location: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
Point Spread: Arizona State (-14)
TV: ESPN (Joe Tessitore, Matt Millen, Maria Taylor
Radio: 620 KTAR AM (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Doug Franz)
Weather Forecast: 62 degrees at kickoff
Series History: The Sun Devils and the Red Raiders have met just once in the history of the two programs and it was Arizona State coming out on top. In 1999, the 25th ranked Sun Devils outlasted the Red Raiders in a 31-13 final in an early September nonconference matchup. J.R. Redmond led Arizona State with 157 yards on 20 carries while the Sun Devil defense limited Red Raiders' tailback Ricky Williams to just 33 yards in the victory.
Arizona State and Texas Tech recently announced plans for a home-and-home series beginning in 2016.
Arizona State Holiday Bowl History: The Sun Devils are hoping to reverse their Holiday Bowl fortunes in 2013 as they enter the contest with an all-time record of 0-3 in the game. Arizona State's last appearance came in 2007, which was also the last time the program compiled 10 wins in a season. The Sun Devils were trounced by Mack Brown's Texas squad in a 52-34 loss in the '07 game. Prior to that game, the Sun Devils lost the 1985 Holiday Bowl to Arkansas and the 2002 Holiday Bowl to Kansas State.
Arizona State Offensive Preview: The Sun Devil offense enters the Holiday Bowl with the opportunity to finish the season as one of the top units in the entire country. Arizona State currently ranks ninth in the country in scoring offense at 41.0 points per game and the Red Raiders' defense has surrendered an average of 48.6 points per game in its last five games.
The Sun Devils have put 50 points on the board in seven of their last 14 contests dating back to last season's bowl game and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell has been the catalyst behind the operation. Norvell recently received a significant pay raise and was promoted to Deputy Head Coach which ensures that he'll be staying at Arizona State through at least 2014.
Norvell's new contract will give him the opportunity to work a third year with quarterback Taylor Kelly who has come into his own during his second season as a starter. Kelly has thrown 28 touchdown passes this season and with an additional three scoring throws on Monday night, he will become the single-season record holder for touchdown passes at Arizona State.
Kelly has also accumulated 3,983 total yards this year including 473 rushing yards and can break Brock Osweiler's school record for total yards in a single-season with 143 yards from scrimmage against Texas Tech.
Norvell's offense has been prolific this season, and it appears as though it will narrowly miss out on a historic feat with an injury to running back Marion Grice. Grice has 996 rushing yards this year, but has a foot injury that is expected to keep him out of the bowl game. If Grice plays and gains four yards, Arizona State will finish the season with a 3,000-yard passer (Kelly), a 1,000-yard rusher (Grice), and a 1,000-yard receiver in Jaelen Strong.
With Grice likely out, the Sun Devils will rely on sophomore standout D.J. Foster to handle the lion's share of the carries at running back. Foster only has 73 carries on the season, but he proved himself with a 23-carry, 124-yard effort against Arizona in Grice's absence.
Foster is also battling an injury, but coach Todd Graham said he expects Foster to be 100 percent come Monday night. With Foster switching to the backfield, the Sun Devils will miss his production at his slot receiver position where he snagged 58 catches for 630 yards this season.
The move allows the Sun Devils to mix in different personnel and show off packages they haven't used frequently this year. Holiday Bowl viewers should expect more two-tight end formations that use both De'Marieya Nelson and Chris Coyle as well as a formation that allows senior wide receiver Kevin Ozier to play the slot.
Ozier's story from walk-on to scholarship player at Arizona State is one of the most inspiring in college football and his journey as a Sun Devil will come to an end on Monday night. As such, the Arizona State coaching staff will likely give Ozier a few extra opportunities to make a closing statement to a fine career as a leader and contributor on the offensive side of the football.
Another important note on Arizona State's offense is the continuity the Sun Devils have enjoyed on the offensive line this season. For the 14th straight game, the Sun Devils will start the same five offensive linemen in left tackle Evan Finkenberg, left guard Jamil Douglas, center Kody Koebensky, right guard Vi Teofilo and right tackle Tyler Sulka. The unit has had growing pains at time this season, but it had a number of outstanding performances including a thorough domination of the USC Trojans' defense back in September that stand out as defining moments in the season.
With an 11-win season to pursue and records to be broken, the Sun Devil offense should charge out hard against a Texas Tech defense that struggled mightily against comparable offenses this year.
Arizona State Defensive Preview: Monday night's Holiday Bowl represents a changing of the guard for Arizona State's defense. For the majority of the season, the Sun Devils have started eight seniors on the defensive side of the football and the Texas Tech game is the final time Arizona State fans will see many of their favorite defenders suit up in the maroon and gold.
Team leaders like Will Sutton and Alden Darby are hoping to go out on top after guiding the program to its 10-win season since 2007. The leadership the Sun Devils have received on defense is unparalleled and it's an aspect that this team will greatly miss in 2014.
The Sun Devils have a unique challenge in facing the Red Raiders because they've only faced one offense that is similar to Texas Tech's. On Halloween, the Sun Devils trounced Mike Leach's Washington State squad 55-21, but Texas Tech's athletes are superior to those running the "Air Raid" offense for the Cougars.
Leach made the "Air Raid" offense famous when he coached Texas Tech in the 2000s and current Red Raiders' head coach Kliff Kingsbury was Leach's first great quarterback at the school. After Leach's replacement Tommy Tuberville bolted for Cincinnati in the offseason, Texas Tech hired Kingsbury to bring the "Air Raid" back to Lubbock.
Kingsbury's toughest task this season has been finding a quarterback who can limit mistakes in the offense. Entering the bowl game, Kingsbury still has not announced a starter. Walk-on freshman Baker Mayfield earned the nod at quarterback most of the season, but Mayfield decided to transfer earlier this month which left backups Davis Webb and Michael Brewer vying for the Holiday Bowl start.
Webb threw for 2,315 yards this season as Mayfield missed time due to injury, and he also tossed 16 touchdown passes compared to nine interceptions. House of Sparky expects Webb to start the game, but Kingsbury has said both Webb and Brewer could see playing time regardless of who starts.
If Webb gets the call, Arizona State's defensive line will have to be quick off the ball. Webb was only sacked seven times this season on more than 320 drop backs because he knows he lacks great mobility and must get his passes off in a timely manner.
Sutton, Davon Coleman and Gannon Conway are three seniors who will be pursuing the Red Raiders' quarterback from the defensive line, but another man Texas Tech must watch out for is edge specialist Carl Bradford. Bradford is a redshirt junior and there's talk that he could enter the NFL Draft after the season concludes. Bradford was the Sun Devils' most productive pass rusher this season, but Graham said he expects Bradford to return for his senior season.
At the linebacker level, Chris Young, Salamo Fiso, and Anthony Jones will be called upon in pass defense more often than usual because of Texas Tech's scheme. If the Sun Devils so choose, they can remove Jones at SPUR because he's more of a run-defender and put an extra defensive back in the game.
In passing situations this year, Arizona State has used Lloyd Carrington as an extra defensive back in a 3-3-5 look and it's also possible that safety Laiu Moeakiola could fill in at SPUR if the Sun Devils want another pass defender in the game.
The toughest assignment Arizona State will draw is covering Red Raider tight end Jace Amaro. Amaro has 98 catches this season and can line up anywhere on the field to create a mismatch. Jones would be a significant liability if asked to cover Amaro, and Moeakiola is undersized against the 6-foot-5, 260-pound specimen.
In all likelihood, members of the Sun Devil secondary will be needed to curtail Amaro. Safety Damarious Randall could be a major asset because he possesses the toughness and the speed to run with just about anyone. Randall often helped bracket an opponent's best receiver this season, so it will be interesting to see how Graham and Co. game plan for an opponent whose top threat is its tight end.
Cornerbacks Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson will also have their hands full against wide receivers Eric Ward and Jakeem Grant. Grant plays the slot and presents more of a matchup issue for Arizona State than Ward does because he's a 5-foot-6 speed man who is tough to bring down in the open field.
The toughest part for Arizona State in playing an opponent like Texas Tech is realizing that big plays are bound to happen. If the Sun Devils get down on themselves because of long passes early, then it could turn into a tough night for the defense. If Arizona State rebounds from big plays with stops and pressure, then the Sun Devils should be just fine.
The Sun Devil defense knows that Texas Tech's running game is subpar at best, so it can game plan and mix and match personnel around defending the pass. Once Arizona State begins to feel comfortable, the defense should be able to make the most of the mistakes that Texas Tech's inexperienced quarterbacks are bound to make.