Arizona State and Texas Tech were polar opposites in 2013. The Sun Devils dropped two of their first five games, and if it weren't for the referees botching the final play against Wisconsin, they would've been below .500 a week into October. Texas Tech, on the other hand, started the year 7-0.
Todd Graham's boys turned the season around in a hurry, though, winning seven games in a row to clinch the Pac-12 South title. They would end up losing to Stanford in the conference title game, but optimism was still abound in Tempe.
The Red Raiders would go on to lose their final five games of the year. Now a once-promising season could get even uglier if the defense isn't able to make stops against one of the top offenses on the west coast, via House of Sparky:
The Sun Devils were second in Pac-12 in scoring this season (Oregon was first), and were ranked tenth in the country at the end of the regular season with an average of 41 points per game. The Sun Devil offense was certainly more balanced than the Red Raider offense. Quarterback Taylor Kelly started all 13 games under center for the Sun Devils and was a threat both running and passing the ball. Kelly threw for 3,510 yards, 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also ran for 473 yards and eight touchdowns. [...]
The Texas Tech defense was ranked seventh overall in the Big-12 and allowed an average of 420 yards per game. In the Red Raiders' five losses this season, they allowed an average of 48.6 points per game. They were ninth overall in the Big-12 in rushing defense as opposing offenses averaged 194.3 rushing yards per game. The defense intercepted seven passes this season which ranks them 107th nationally.
Fortunately for the Red Raiders, a couple of key defensive players could return in time for Monday's kickoff in San Diego, via Viva the Matadors:
Luckily, Texas Tech is seeing the return of some defenders as DT Dennell Wesley, OLB Terrance Bullitt and S Tre Porter all returned to practice after being out with injuries (via LAJ). Here's Co-DC Mike Smith:
"We've got guys that have been beat up all year that are coming back on defense that are looking healthy," Smith said, "and guys that just were fighting nagging injuries are looking healthy. Today I was watching Terrance, and he's just a totally different person."
With ASU set to lose quite a few starters on both sides of the ball, House of Sparky feels a win would not only send its seniors out in style, but would also give the program some serious momentum heading into spring practice and the offseason:
The Holiday Bowl has become famous for Pac-12 letdowns as teams that nearly make the Rose Bowl often show up to play an underwhelming opponent and then fall flat on their faces. I think that this Arizona State team is different than most other schools that have fallen short of the Rose Bowl in recent memory, because the Sun Devils' success has not been sustained over a long period of time. Arizona State has really made strides under Todd Graham, and I think the Sun Devils understand that winning the Holiday Bowl is a stepping stone toward ultimately competing annually for a spot in the Rose Bowl.
For me, the biggest incentive for Arizona State to win the Holiday Bowl would be to build momentum into the offseason. A bowl game loss can leave a sour taste in the mouths of players and the Sun Devils want to hit the ground running in spring ball. The Sun Devils will definitely be a contender in the Pac-12 next year and to finish off a season with 11 wins and a bowl game victory would solidify their status. Without beating up on Texas Tech, the season might feel incomplete and that's the exact opposite of what Todd Graham is trying to accomplish.
And hey, if next Monday night doesn't give us enough of the Devils and Red Raiders, we'll get to see them play each other once again in 2016.