When Arizona State and Fresno State meet tomorrow in the Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl, the Sun Devils will enter with a 3-0 advantage over the Bulldogs. ASU won all three previous meetings.
However, that means nothing in this game. The last meeting between the two teams was 77 years ago.
ASU and Fresno State played each other in 1931, 1933, and in 1941. That last meeting was 37 years before the ASU program was admitted to the Pac-12. The school was still called the Arizona State Teachers’ College. And its mascot was the Bulldog.
Today’s Fresno State was still carrying the Fresno State Normal School moniker back then. It wouldn’t join the California State University system for another 20 years.
Herm Edwards (above, with Sun Bowl trophy) wasn’t born yet when the last game was played. But the ASU head coach is on board for this one.
Tomorrow’s bowl game will put the cap on Edwards’ first season directing the program, a season of over-achievement in which he took a team picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South Division to a bowl game and came within one win from claiming the South Division title. A loss to Oregon in the second-to-last game of the season cost the Devils that title.
Ironically, the Fresno State mascot is the Bulldog that ASU later abandoned in favor of the friendlier Sparky.
Things have changed since those days of malt shops, penny candy, and gasoline for 19 cents a gallon. The Bulldogs, a D-I school now playing in the Mountain West Conference, is a force to be reckoned with.
Fresno State is a four-point favorite to break its losing streak against the Devils.
The Bulldogs will come into tomorrow’s contest at Sam Boyd Stadium in Whitney, Nev., sporting an 11-2 overall record, with the added incentive of becoming the first team in school history to rack up 12 wins by beating the 7-5 Sun Devils. They are the No. 21-ranked team in the country.
Both teams have senior quarterbacks. ASU’s Manny Wilkins depends on his arm to get things done. He has passed for 2,896 yards this year, while picking up an additional 416 yards running – second on the team to running back Eno Benjamin. Wilkins averages 241 yards passing per game and has thrown 19 touchdown passes.
Marcus McMaryion gives the Bulldogs a senior QB as well. McMaryion, who transferred in from Oregon State to play his final college season in his hometown, is an incredibly accurate throwing machine who will try to pick apart an ASU defense that has had difficulty dealing with good quarterbacks. He has thrown for 3,453 yards and 25 touchdowns, but has just three interceptions. If you add in his 322 rushing yards, that puts him within reach of the 4,000-yard mark in overall offense.
Fresno State uses a couple of sophomore running backs still trying to develop the running game, but McMaryion has one of the better receivers in the country to use as his go-to offensive weapon. Kesean Johnson has caught 93 passes from McMaryion this season to finish the regular season with 1,307 yards and eight touchdowns.
ASU, too, has a world-class receiver of its own in N’Keal Harry, who provided the Devils with an average of 91 yards of offense per game, running up 1,088 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. But the junior won’t be playing against Fresno State. He has announced his intention to skip his last year of eligibility to enter the next NFL draft and, with his coach’s approval, decided to skip the bowl game as a precaution to suffering an injury that might drop his value in the draft. He’s expected by most analysts to go early in the first round.
That means that Benjamin, a sophomore and the top running back in the Pac-12, might be called upon to carry more of the offensive load against the Bulldogs, not an enviable situation since Fresno State has one of the best defenses in the country against the run.
Benjamin, who was just notified that he is among the finalists for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award (top offensive player from Texas), is a newly-minted All-American who ran for 1,542 yards this season and set a new school record for carries in a season with 277 — and also set the school’s new single-game rushing record of 312 yards. Among his many honors this season, he was a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award, which honors the nation’s top running back.
He needs 42 yards against the Bulldogs to corral the ASU all-time single-season rushing record, set 46 years ago.
The media has already recognized this as one of the better bowl match-ups. The game will be carried on ABC, with the top ESPN broadcast team of Kirk Herbstreit and Rece Davis making the calls.
So pop a brew and sit back in that big ol’ easy chair. This game should provide a great start to the bowl season.
(Photo: Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)