For the final time in 2014, it is gameday. And for the final time in 2014, the House of Sparky staff sits down to talk about it. ASU meets Duke in the Sun Bowl today, so here's what our group thinks about it.
Justin Emerson: Managing Editor (@J15Emerson)
Nick Krueger: Managing Editor (@NickPKrueger)
Jason Galvin: Columnist (@Jason_Galvin)
Shane Theodore: Staff writer (@shane_writes)
Connor Pelton: Staff writer (@ConnorPelton28)
Last season, ASU came out flat (to put it nicely) in its bowl game. Do you see a similar hangover this year?
Emerson: I really don't think so. Last year ASU was dead-set on the Rose Bowl, and anything less was viewed as a consolation prize. This year, UCLA was supposed to beat Stanford, so I don't think ASU or its fans had the opportunity to view the Territorial Cup as the Pac-12 South title game that it was. I see a motivated team coming out for one last hoorah with senior quarterback who has meant everything to this era of ASU football.
Krueger: I don't, but its also bowl season and teams that don't lose games with regularity sometimes do. I think this team has a different attitude and aura about it than last year's group. The expectation was higher last season and once they didn't reach the ultimate goal, they lacked motivation. This year's team wasn't supposed to win nine games and to win 10 games would certainly be a great accomplishment. It's also a younger group, some of whom have never experienced a bowl win before. They have more motivation.
Galvin: I'm not sure. It's a similar situation (coming off a disappointing loss in a big game). I think the difference will be motivation for Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong (and possibly Damarious Randall) in playing their final games as a Sun Devil. They'll be motivated. Duke also has less to play for than Texas Tech did last season.
Theodore: If ASU comes out flat, it'll have a lot more to do with Duke than it did with Texas Tech last season in the Holiday Bowl. Motivation-wise, I have no doubt that Todd Graham will have his players going all-out for the 10th win of the season and to send the seniors out on a high note. But Duke's better than Texas Tech was.
Pelton: I do not. I'm guessing that was a huge topic of discussion over the past few weeks in preparation for this game, and I cannot see Todd Graham letting it happen again. But then again, it is the players that will actually be on the field, and things like that can lead to squirrely happenings in bowl games. In the end, I think the team will be motivated to put the Territorial Cup loss and last year's bowl performance behind them. Expect Duke to be blitzed from the start.
What are your impressions of the Duke football team? What does it do well?
Emerson: It really comes down to coaching. Somehow David Cutcliffe has managed to make people realize that basketball isn't the only sport played at Duke, even winning a division title last year. The ASU coaching staff compared the Blue Devils to Utah, so let's just hope it doesn't come down to a field goal in overtime.
Krueger: They have excellent balance in the run and pass games, but true depth in the running back corps with four backs over 70 carries this season. For as weak as the schedule seemed, I think they played more difficult games (in situations) than most think. Miami hung with Florida State and Duke Johnson is an incredible talent while Virginia notably almost knocked off UCLA. I give the Blue Devils more credit than they might be due, but I still don't envision a cakewalk especially if quarterback Anthony Boone can find wide receiver Jamison Crowder early and often.
Galvin: Duke's a good team. They don't have much individual talent, but David Cutcliffe has molded that program from a perennial doormat into a solid, well-rounded team. The Blue Devils can run, and guard Laken Tomlinson is one of the best in America. He reminds me of Larry Wofford, who went largely unnoticed at Kentucky, fell to the third round in the NFL Draft, and is now the league's best guard for Detroit. Duke won't make mistakes; their game plan is to force you to play perfect football.
Theodore: Duke doesn't do anything particularly well, they just don't have any large deficiencies. Redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Boone is experienced and has thrown nearly half as many interceptions this season as he did in 2013. Duke has always had some of the smartest football players in the country but outside of the Steve Spurrier years, they've struggled in getting the athletes that can compete on the field with the public school programs. David Cutliffe has done a great job following the Stanford model of recruiting elite athletes that also happen to be really smart.
Pelton: I've been watching this Duke team closely for a few years now and continue to like what I see. Similar to Oregon State in the Pac-12, the Blue Devils are able to do a lot more with less talent than their counterparts in the ACC. A lot of that is a credit to coach David Cutcliffe. He had four bowl wins while at Mississippi (including one Cotton Bowl), and while he has not yet won one with Duke, he came awfully close last year against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. His team will play sound football and give the Sun Devils a very good test to close the season.
ASU got blown out in the Pac-12 title game last year and was unable to put away the Wildcats with a trip to this year's title game on the line. Does ASU have a problem when it comes to winning the big game?
Emerson: The thing about big games is that they are against good teams. And games against good teams are hard to win. I think the fact ASU has been in so many big games is a testament to its success over the last three years, a period that has seen two wins against Arizona, two straight against USC, one in UCLA to clinch the South and a beatdown of Notre Dame.
Krueger: Seemingly every game was huge after UCLA because the Pac-12 had so much parity and wins came at a premium. ASU just happened to lose at the wrong times. Last season against UCLA and this season against Notre Dame I think can be qualified as wins in big games. So I guess my answer is no, because they have won big games recently.
Galvin: I don't think we can say that, yet. This team was incomplete and rebuilding, despite its success, in Todd Graham's first two seasons. This year, the team was supposed to be raw and young. Instead, it was in the top ten late in the season. Turns out Arizona is pretty good, too. Plus it's a rivalry. The Sun Devils beat Notre Dame this year, Wisconsin last. USC in back-to-back seasons. They haven't taken the next step, but that's what year four has always been designed for.
Theodore: ASU also has won the Pac-South title in the Rose Bowl, crushed No. 10 Notre Dame and beat Arizona in Tucson under Todd Graham. Yeah they've lost a couple of big games but maybe, just maybe the teams they lost to were of pretty high quality. ASU's played in quite a few "big games" against marquee opponents in the past couple of years, to magnify the ones they lost more than we do the big games it won isn't fair. The other team has scholarship athletes too.
Pelton: Nah. USC, Stanford, Utah, and Notre Dame were all labled as "big" games at the time (with some carrying more importance than others), and Arizona State won all of those. Like Jason said, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year. The team exceeded most expectations and definitely improved as the year went on, save for a late stumble at Oregon State. For the program to climb the ladder into "perennial Rose Bowl contender they will need to average 10 or 11 victories a year. Right now, however, I think nine wins is a good benchmark.
Give us the final score and one other prediction about the game.
Emerson: ASU 45, Duke 28. Taylor Kelly is responsible for three touchdowns in his final game and goes out a winner.
Krueger: Much better than Texas Tech last season, but a little bit more of a battle than Navy two seasons ago. ASU 49, Duke 28. Damarious Randall has two interceptions in his final game, Taylor Kelly has four total touchdowns.
Galvin: 44-30, ASU. This will be a fun game to watch. Jaelen Strong goes for three touchdowns in his final Sun Devil appearance.
Theodore: ASU wins, 31-21. Taylor Kelly throws for a pair of touchdowns and the venom that has been spewed his way this season turns into appreciation as he leaves ASU with another 10-win season.
Pelton: 34-24. Arizona State. The Sun Devils do not have any post-Christmas hangovers and jump out to a 14-3 lead. Taylor Kelly throws for three touchdowns in his final game.