The Holiday Bowl may present the biggest mismatch among all relevant post season college football games, heavily favoring Arizona State over Texas Tech.
The situation at hand seems familiar.
Back in 2011, Arizona State lost four straight to end the season. At 6-6 overall, the maroon and gold were lucky to be invited to the Maaco Las Vegas bowl. Upon its arrival was an 11-1 Boise State team that arguably should've been in one of the BCS contests. I felt bad for the Broncos, who deserved to play a much more worthy opponent. Boise State demolished Arizona State 56-24.
Jump back to present day. Texas Tech comes in at 7-5, losing its previous five contests after starting the campaign 7-0. Meanwhile Arizona State (10-3) is the Pac-12 South champion. Excluding outings against Stanford, Todd Graham and Co. were very tough to beat. I now feel bad for the Sun Devils, who deserve to play a much more worthy opponent.
The strength of the Red Raiders team was its high-powered offense, directed by Kliff Kingsbury. Notice the key word in the previous sentence? "Was". Maybe the 35.7 points per game average won't waver, but that seems unlikely due to starting quarterback Baker Mayfield transferring. Therefore the sole aspect Texas Tech could count on has turned into a question mark.
Before I make the final Haber's Hunches, a reminder that the year-long tally resides at 22-16.
On July 31 I began the Haber's Hunches series by discussing Jaelen Strong. I think it's fitting to start the last edition of Haber's Hunches by talking Strong. I predicted Strong to post around 1,100 yards and 60 receptions, which was higher than most people thought. Strong surpassed that with 71 receptions, 1,096 yards, seven touchdowns and counting.
Texas Tech also understands the luxury of an unstoppable target through Jace Amaro. The following statistics Amaro owns are reminiscent of video games, notching 98 receptions, 1,240 yards, seven touchdowns and potentially more on the horizon.
According to the numbers, Amaro prevails over Strong. I think the numbers are going to be wrong.
Strong and Amaro are nearly the same size; listed at 6-feet-4 and 6-feet-5 respectively. The two haul in balls and make trips to to pay dirt, yet play different positions. Strong lines up at wide receiver and Amaro lines up at tight end.
Regardless of the immense individual talent between Strong and Amaro, quarterback play is going to be the separating factor. In my opinion, Taylor Kelly belongs in the conversation as one of the 10 best signal-callers in the country. On the contrary, Texas Tech expected starter David Webb) is technically a backup and lacks experience. Strong will outplay Amaro for numerous reasons and surrounding talent headlines the bunch.
Second Hunch: Osahon Irabor against Eric Ward can keep fans entertained, despite a potentially lopsided scoreboard
Osahon Irabor and Eric Ward aren't the marquee names that comes to mind when thinking about Arizona State or Texas Tech. The consistency from each gets swept under the rug at times.
Irabor (cornerback) will guard Ward (wide receiver) on a lot of snaps and the head-to-head battle will be entertaining.
Among the plethora of NFL prospects taking the Holiday Bowl stage, Irabor and Ward could have the most on the line. Irabor was robbed on First-Team All Pac-12 honors. Ward lost some of the limelight because Amaro bursted onto the scene.
Even if the meeting between Arizona State and Texas Tech gets out of hand, Irabor and Ward are going to exchange blows to the final whistle. Irabor specializes in man-to-man situations and bumping wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. Ward specializes at running precise routes and taking off with top-notch speed.
Can Irabor knock Ward off his spot? Or will Ward blow by Irabor? I honestly don't know the answer and look forward to finding out.
Final Hunch EVER: Texas Tech remains competitive if an asteroid strikes down on Qualcomm Stadium or Arizona State commits 3-plus turnovers
Whether you look at the teams straight on or upside down, Arizona State beats Texas Tech. Once every 500,000 years an asteroid strikes earth. The odds obviously aren't that bad for Texas Tech, although nothing short of a miracle would suffice.
In reality, turnovers are always the equalizer in football. The Sun Devils are simply too good for the Red Raiders. But in life, we all make mistakes, creating opportunities for others.
If Taylor Kelly throws interceptions, D.J. Foster coughs up the rock, and Robert Nelson handles punts poorly, then suddenly anything can happen. Assuming all of the above happen, Arizona State can still overcome Texas Tech by at least 10 points while the Red Raiders keep the game competitive.
The Red Raiders' defense is atrocious, surrendering 30-plus points in each of the past five games. The Sun Devil offense is elite, ranking No. 9 in scoring offense in the nation. Those two facts alone will guide Arizona State to an easy win over Texas Tech.