ASU notebook: Bowl picture taking shape
NOV 19, 2012 3:03p ET
ASU (6-5, 4-4 Pac-12) got bowl-eligible with a win over Washington State on Saturday and at the time seemed bound for a non-Pac-12-affiliated bowl game. But when No. 2 Oregon lost to Stanford on Saturday night, the picture got a little fuzzier.
Considering there's still a week of Pac-12 football to play, there is no way to predict with certainty which teams will end up where. But as things stand now, a win over UA (7-4, 4-4) could earn ASU a spot in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the Pac-12's sixth affiliate bowl, played in San Francisco on Dec. 29.
A loss, however, would likely mean a trip to the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, the conference's lowest-tier bowl game, played in Albuquerque on Dec. 15. There's also a good chance UA would end up in Albuquerque if it loses Friday's game, while a win for the Wildcats could send them to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl or possibly the Las Vegas Bowl.
While there's only a certain degree of accuracy that comes with bowl projections before the final game of the regular seasons, there is at least a reasonable picture of where teams may land. That picture at this point includes the possibility of BCS teams (Stanford and Oregon), which changes the bowl picture for the rest of the conference. Losses by either team this week (Stanford plays UCLA in Los Angeles and Oregon plays at Oregon State) would make the picture much murkier.
Regardless of where ASU ends up, the fact it has made a bowl at all in coach Todd Graham's first season is enough to call the year a success, but Graham sees it as more of a building block.
"That's something that's got to be a minimum for our program every year," Graham said. "I want our players every year to experience a bowl. Obviously our expectations are a lot higher than that, but … the extra practices are invaluable. And obviously there's the impact it has on recruiting. You can't build a program without it."
After the receivers tallied just four catches against USC a week earlier, the unit rebounded against Washington State on Saturday, helping lead ASU's 46-7 rout.
The performance, which included receptions by nine different players, may have come against a poor passing defense -- the Cougars entered the day allowing 265.7 passing yards per game -- but still impressed Graham.
"I thought we really had some receivers really break out and catch some balls downfield," Graham said at his weekly Monday press conference. "That was something that we wanted to see happen."
Senior Rashad Ross led all receivers with eight catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns, senior Jamal Miles tied a season high with five catches for 53 yards and junior Kevin Ozier had three receptions for 60 yards. Quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank combined for 301 passing yards.
The performance was important for a group that's been largely ineffective this season, with tight end Chris Coyle and running backs D.J. Foster and Marion Grice the team's best receiving options.
"We wanted to be more engaged in the offense," Ozier said. "I know in the past the receivers have been kind of down, so we just wanted to show we're playmakers like we're supposed to be."
The receivers could be in for another big game Friday against the Pac-12's worst pass defense. UA's defense is allowing an average of 305.5 passing yards per game, the only total in the conference above 300.
Kelly, in his first season as ASU's starting quarterback, is already setting school records. He completed his last 18 passes in Saturday's game to break the record for consecutive pass completions in a game, with the previous record being 13 by Dick Mackey in 1952.
Kelly could topple a couple more records with two games left to play (bowl stats count toward season totals). With 25 touchdown passes already, Kelly needs six more to break Andrew Walter's record of 30 set in 2004. And with a 66.9 completion percentage, Kelly is on pace to break Brock Osweiler's record of 61.8 for quarterbacks with 300 or more attempts, set last season.
Kelly could also move up the list for passing yards in a season. He currently ranks ninth with 2,581 but could move up to fifth with 300 more yards or fourth with 600 more yards. If he could do that much, he'd need only 22 more to finish third on the list, but any higher than that is almost certainly out of reach.
-- With a short week and the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, ASU skipped its usual day off Monday, instead doing a walkthrough at Sun Devil Stadium. The Sun Devils will have full practices Tuesday and Wednesday, giving them the usual three sessions together before Friday's game.
-- Senior right guard Andrew Sampson returned Saturday from a three-game absence due to an ankle injury. The offensive line still gave up four sacks, but that was an improvement over the seven suffered a week earlier against USC. ASU ranks 112th nationally in sacks allowed with 3.36 per game.
-- With 10 tackles for loss Saturday, ASU held onto its No. 2 ranking nationally in the category with 8.91 per game. Defensive end Davon Coleman recorded three of those 10, while devilbacker Carl Bradford had two. Seven of those 10 were sacks, a category in which ASU leads the nations with 4.27 per game.
-- Despite a 46.83 yards-per-punt average that ranks third in the nation, ASU punter Josh Hubner was left off the list of finalists for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the nation's top punter. Louisiana Tech's Ryan Allen (who won last year), Ball State's Scott Kovanda, and Florida's Kyle Christy are the finalists. Only Allen's average is better than Hubner's.