Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN2) at AT&T Park, San Francisco
Forecast: 48 degrees
Spread: Arizona State by 14.5
Watchability: If both teams can play with the vigor that they displayed in regular season-ending wins, then this should be a pretty decent matchup. Two good, disciplined teams with enough weaknesses for the other team to exploit.
Shining stars: Arizona State -- RB D.J. Foster -- The impressive freshman had a fine season, leading the Sun Devils in all-purpose yardage despite a limited role in a crowded backfield. Foster found enough time to flash his speed and quickness, and with Marion Grice questionable because of the death of his brother, Foster could play a crucial role. Navy -- QB Keenan Reynolds. A quarterback playing in the Navy offense is charged with a special duty. Namely, put the team before his own stats. For a quarterback, that's often easier said than done. Not for Reynolds. He made all the right moves, including staying content to do damage with his feet, as he led Navy to a 7-1 record in the final two-thirds of the season. For the year, he threw just one interception in 97 passing attempts, while throwing for eight touchdowns.
Who could steal the show: Arizona State -- DB Keelan Johnson. Johnson improved leaps and bounds during the second half of his senior year, becoming a sure tackler and, more importantly, a ball hawk. He had four interceptions in the Sun Devils' final four games, including two in a 46-7 win over Washington State. He finished with five picks on the year, plus eight pass break-ups. Navy -- LB Keegan Wetzel. Wetzel had an impressive 14.5 tackles for loss, but so often, they came in spurts. Four times this season, Wetzel has made no impact behind the line of scrimmage. Twice, he made some impact, picking up solo sacks. In six games, though, he was hard to stop, picking up multiple TFLs to disrupt the backfield.
Magic number for Arizona State: 0. The Sun Devils must stay on the field against a clock-churning triple-option attack, so they especially cannot afford turnovers on Saturday.
Magic number for Navy: 1.67. Arizona State can bring the heat when it chooses, and that could be trouble for a Navy offense that ranks 48th in sacks allowed at 1.67 per game.
3 keys to an Arizona State win
- Will Sutton goes beast mode: In a conference full of some impressive interior linemen, Sutton was the best in 2012. The stats speak for themselves: Conference-leading 1.82 tackles for loss per game, .95 sacks per game to rank second, plus a solid 58 tackles. Navy has no one to stop him. All that matters is how relentless Sutton plays.
- Find Chris Coyle: In a conference full of some impressive tight ends, Chris Coyle was not the best in 2012. But someday, he could be. Overshadowed by Stanford's Zach Ertz and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Coyle still managed to open some eyes as he led the Sun Devils in receptions (4.42 per game) and receiving yards (54.92 per game). He'll need to best those season averages if ASU is to control the tempo.
- Shut down Navy's already weak pass offense: The Midshipmen aren't intimidating through the air, but the Sun Devils can allow no free passes. Arizona State ranks among the best in the country in pass efficiency defense (12th, 178.73) and now is not the time to let up.
3 keys to a Navy win
- Stay Navy strong: The Midshipmen were held surprisingly in check by a bad Army team for most of their season-ending matchup. But Navy toughened up when it mattered, and that kind of resolve will be crucial against a more talented Arizona State team.
- Play their game: The Sun Devils allowed 200-plus rushing yards in four of its last six games. Running the triple-option to near-perfection, the Midshipmen rush for more than 275 yards per game, ranking sixth nationally. Something has to give. If Navy is able to stick to what works, ASU will be on its heels all day.
- Fluster Taylor Kelly: The Sun Devils' toughest stretch coincided with Kelly's rough run. During a four-game slide after a 5-1 start, Kelly threw seven of his nine interceptions as he avoided a heavy rush. Tried to avoid, anyway. He had 17 sacks during the brutal streak, and Arizona State must keep him upright to avoid a similar fate.
Prediction: Arizona State 34, Navy 10