Arizona State Sun Devils (7-5 Overall; 5-4 Pac-12)
Todd Graham's first season at Arizona State did not finish with nearly as much promise as it began, but Arizona State is coming off a wild come-from-behind victory against rival Arizona to finish the regular season and claim the Territorial Cup. The Sun Devils will look to take the momentum from that win and bring it to San Francisco in hopes of winning their first bowl game since the 2005 Insight Bowl when they beat Rutgers. The Sun Devils bring a potent offense to San Francisco, but it remains to be seen how an Arizona State run defense that's allowed 172 yards per game will deal with Navy's triple-option attack.
At Their Best. Through mid-October it appeared that Graham's presence had immediately improved Arizona State's program. The Sun Devils were 5-1 and 3-0 in the Pac-12, with an offense averaging 40.5 points per game. More importantly the Arizona State defense was allowing only 14.2 points per game a season after it had allowed twice that amount. Things would derail a bit from there, but the highlight of the season had to be the 41-34 win over Arizona to finish the regular season. The Sun Devils trailed 27-17 after three quarters but were able to turn two turnovers and a blocked punt into three touchdowns to complete the comeback and knock off their state rival.
At Their Worst. Arizona State followed its 5-1 start with a steep decline. The Sun Devils would lose four straight games and find themselves at 5-5 after allowing an average of 40.5 points per game against Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and USC. That bad run of form cost the Sun Devils any chance at winning a Pac-12 South Division that seemed a real possibility in mid-October.
Headliner. The biggest beneficiary of Graham's offense was quarterback Taylor Kelly. The sophomore replaced Brock Osweiler this season and the Sun Devils offense did not miss a beat as Kelly finished the year with 3,207 total yards while throwing 25 touchdown passes and only nine interceptions. Kelly also finished the season ranked 24th in the nation with a passing efficiency of 152.88. A number higher than guys like Brett Hundley, Landry Jones and Tyler Bray just to name a few. Kelly should add to those numbers while facing a Navy defense that's ranked 86th in defensive passing efficiency this season.
Navy Midshipmen (8-4 Overall)
After qualifying for a bowl game in every season from 2002 to 2010 Navy missed out on the postseason after a disappointing 5-7 season in 2011. However, Ken Niumatalolo got the ship -- pun totally intended -- righted this season as Navy overcame a 50-10 blasting by Notre Dame to start the season that was followed with a 34-7 loss to Penn State. Navy would go on to win eight of its final 10 games. However, this Arizona State team presents a challenge, as only one of Navy's victories came against a BCS opponent this season, and that opponent was an Indiana team that finished 4-8.
At Their Best. When you think of Navy at its best you think about its triple-option attack efficiently running over an opponent. At no point in the season was the Navy attack more potent than during a 56-28 win over East Carolina. In that contest the Midshipmen rushed for 510 yards as a team on 69 carries, averaging 7.42 yards per attempt. It was the fifth-best rushing total by any team in the 2012 season, as running back Gee Gee Greene rushed for 131 yards and quarterback Keenan Reynolds finished with 81 yards and three touchdowns. Navy would not approach 500 yards rushing in any other game this year, but it did rush for over 400 yards against both Texas State and VMI.
At Their Worst. The first two games of the season painted a grim picture of what the 2012 might have looked like for Navy. A big reason for the two early blowout losses were the eight turnovers the Midshipmen had. Navy would only turn the ball over 10 more times over its final 10 games.
Headliner. The triple-option offense is a tough offense for any freshman quarterback to get a firm grasp of, let alone a freshman quarterback who happens to be enrolled at the Naval Academy, but Reynolds learned quickly. He finished his first season at the helm with 1,512 total yards and 18 total touchdowns. Not eye-popping numbers by any means, but he is the captain of this ship -- another pun! -- and as he goes so goes Navy.
What: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
When: Saturday, Dec. 29 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Where: AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA
Weird: This is the third straight season that a team coached by Todd Graham will appear in a bowl game. However, it is the first time since the 2009 GMAC Bowl with Tulsa that Graham was still around to actually coach his team in that bowl game.
Line: Arizona State -14
Prediction: A triple-option offense is very hard to prepare for when you're not used to seeing it and have less than a week to get ready. However, that's not the case for Arizona State as the Sun Devils have over a month to prepare. While Navy will no doubt be able to find the end zone against this Arizona State defense, I'm just not convinced it has the athletes on defense that it will need to slow down Arizona State's offense. In the end Navy's rushing attack just won't be enough.
Arizona State 41 Navy 24