Sun Bowl: Can Arizona State send Todd Graham out with a win over NC State?

Dr. Saturday
Todd Graham was fired after the regular season but will still coach Arizona State in the Sun Bowl. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Todd Graham was fired after the regular season but will still coach Arizona State in the Sun Bowl. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Hyundai Sun Bowl
No. 24 NC State (8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5)
Dec. 29, 3 p.m. ET, El Paso, Texas (CBS)
NC State -6.5, O/U: 59.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

NC State: After losing to South Carolina in the opener, NC State rattled off six straight wins and was in the thick of the ACC Atlantic race. From there, the Wolfpack, then ranked No. 14, traveled to Notre Dame and hosted Clemson with a chance to enter the national conversation, but lost both games. Including those two losses, NC State lost three of five down the stretch to finish 8-4 — tied for the most wins during Dave Doeren’s five seasons as head coach.

Arizona State: Arizona State rebounded from consecutive losing seasons by finishing the regular season at 7-5. The Sun Devils started 2-3, but upset two ranked teams — No. 24 Oregon and No. 5 Washington — and then won three of four down the stretch, but that wasn’t enough for Todd Graham to keep his job. After ASU beat rival Arizona 42-30 in the season finale, the school fired Graham and, in a widely criticized move, hired Herm Edwards. Graham will coach the bowl game, however, before Edwards completely takes the reins.

North Carolina State’s <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/241263/" data-ylk="slk:Jaylen Samuels">Jaylen Samuels</a> (C) leads the Wolfpack in receptions (69) and rushing touchdowns (11). (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina State’s Jaylen Samuels (C) leads the Wolfpack in receptions (69) and rushing touchdowns (11). (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ryan Finley, QB, NC State: Defensive lineman Bradley Chubb, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year (73 tackles, 26 TFL, 10 sacks), would have been the player to note here, but he’s not expected to play. Instead, we’ll highlight quarterback Ryan Finley, who has been a really steady presence for the Wolfpack in two seasons as the starter since transferring from Boise State. Finley, who has an NFL draft decision to make, enters the bowl game with 3,200 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing 64 percent of his passes.

N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State: N’Keal Harry finished his freshman season with 23 catches over the final three games, and that carried over into 2017. Harry, a five-star recruit from Chandler, Arizona, leads the Sun Devils with 73 receptions for 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns entering the bowl game. Harry, whose receptions total is second in the Pac-12, was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: NC State has one more versatile offensive players in the country in Jaylen Samuels. Samuels is listed as a tight end but lines up at running back and wide receiver as well. Samuels leads the Wolfpack in receptions (69) and rushing touchdowns (11), is tied for the team lead with four TD catches and is third with 383 rushing yards. On the other side, Arizona State has the weird dynamic of Todd Graham coaching the game after being fired. His offensive coordinator, Billy Napier, won’t coach the game after accepting the UL-Lafayette coaching job.

North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley looks to pass against Wake Forest during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. Wake Forest defeated N.C. State 30-24. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley looks to pass against Wake Forest during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. Wake Forest defeated N.C. State 30-24. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

WHAT’S ON THE LINE: NC State is playing in its fourth straight bowl game in its fifth year under Dave Doeren. A win over ASU would give the Wolfpack nine wins for the first time in Doeren’s tenure and a 3-1 bowl record since he took the job. Arizona State can reach eight wins for the first time since 2014, the year that has the program’s last bowl win. That bowl? Also the Sun Bowl — a 36-31 win over Duke.

PREDICTIONS

Nick: NC State 31, Arizona State 20
Sam: NC State 34, Arizona State 27

– – – – – – –

Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!


What to Read Next

Back