Arizona State finished the first season under coach Herm Edwards a few steps short of reaching a big-time bowl game.
But the opponent in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday is no slouch.
The No. 21-ranked Fresno State Bulldogs are for real. They’re 11-2 on the year, with losses to a usually-stout Boise State team and another to a Minnesota Golden Gophers squad that finished 6-6 out in the Big Ten. Both were only seven-point defeats.
For a better point of reference, Fresno State fared well against two common opponents with ASU this season. The Bulldogs blew out UCLA, 38-14, in the nonconference season weeks before Arizona State squeaked by an improved Bruin team, 31-28.
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Fresno State also beat San Diego State, 23-14, after SDSU dropped ASU 28-21 in the third game of the season.
Adding to the apprehension in picking the Sun Devils is leading receiver N’Keal Harry sitting out the bowl game after declaring for the NFL Draft.
Add it all together, and confidence in ASU pulling off the upset isn’t high. Oddsmakers have set the line six points in Fresno State’s favor.
Here is what a few college football reporters and writers are predicting when it comes to the Las Vegas Bowl.
Adam Rittenberg, ESPN
Pick: Fresno State 36, Arizona State 24
I love what Jeff Tedford has done at Fresno State, which won the Mountain West because of disciplined defense and efficient offense. Herm Edwards did a solid job at ASU, but with wide receiver N’Keal Harry entering the draft and uncertain to play, Fresno State will buckle down and Marcus McMaryion throws two second-half touchdowns.
Pat Forde, Yahoo! Sports
Pick: Fresno State 23, Arizona State 17
The Bulldogs are second in the nation in scoring defense and don’t have to deal with star Sun Devils receiver N’Keal Harry, who is sitting this one out on his way to the draft. Nine of ASU’s 12 games have been decided by one score, and the last three by a total of six points, so expect another close one.
Sports Illustrated staff
Fresno State wins: Andy Staples, Ross Dellenger, Joan Niesen, Eric Single, Molly Geary, Scooby Axson and Max Meyer
Arizona State wins: Laken Litman
Bruce Feldman, The Athletic
Pick: Fresno State 34, Arizona State 28
Jeff Tedford’s been really good in bowl games (6-3), and this is Herm Edwards’ first as a head coach. He’s also coaching a program that’s lost three of its past four bowls. Expect Marcus McMaryion to have another big day. He’s thrown 18 TD passes and just one INT since the end of September.
Bill Connelly’s S&P projection, SB Nation
Pick: Fresno State 35, Arizona State 22
We overreact to bowls as a general rule, but this one is big for the Group of Five — Fresno State is a top-10 team per S&P+, and Arizona State is outside the top 50. You never know about who’s motivated for bowls and who isn’t, but this is a game that the Fresno State of the second half of the season should handle with relative ease.
Athlon Sports staff
Fresno State wins: Steven Lassan, Mitch Light, Mark Ross
Arizona State wins: None
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