TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State officially received its bowl invitation Sunday night from the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, which will pit the Sun Devils against Navy on Dec. 29 in San Francisco.
“Very excited, obviously,” ASU coach Todd Graham said after the team’s practice Sunday night. “It’s a great location for us because of our recruiting base to be able to go the Bay Area. California is such an important place for us to recruit.
“And then the team we’re playing — we have the honor of competing against one of the academies.”
The Sun Devils (7-5) and Midshipmen have never met on the gridiron. Navy accepted the bid Nov. 3 after a win over Florida Atlantic, as the bowl game has a tie-in with independents Navy and BYU on one side and the Pac-12 on the other.
Navy is 7-4 on the season heading into its game against Army this Saturday. It owns the nation’s sixth-ranked rushing attack, with 285.5 yards per game, thanks to its run-heavy triple-option offense. It’s passing offense, on the other hand, ranks 117th out of 120 FBS teams, managing just 108.6 yards per game.
“I can tell you they’ll be a formidable opponent,” Graham said. “Very different, very difficult, very well-coached, very disciplined. I know our guys are excited about the opportunity to play such a prestigious academy and university.”
Graham said Navy’s triple option makes defensive preparation a challenge because the uncommon offense is more difficult to simulate. A case could be made, though, that knowing what the opponent does so often gives ASU an edge.
“It’s all run,” freshman defensive tackle Jaxon Hood said. “They don’t throw the ball but 10 times a game. … When they score, if they get a big play, it’s because somebody (on defense) didn’t do their assignment.”
ASU will play in a second consecutive bowl game for the first time since 2007. The Sun Devils lost 56-24 to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl last season after having missed the postseason the three previous years. ASU does not have a bowl win since 2005, when it beat Rutgers in the Insight Bowl.
“It’s not even about the motivation to get a bowl win,” senior safety Keelan Johnson said. “It’s about getting a win, period.”
Graham has now led six of his last seven teams to bowl games, going 3-1 overall to this point after having not coached Pittsburgh in last year’s BBVA Compass Bowl because he left to take over ASU.
The Sun Devils boosted their bowl profile in their final regular-season game, topping rival Arizona and assuring them their first winning season since 2007.
ASU’s players, however, are eager to capture an eighth win.
“It’s about building the program even more for ASU into the future, and this is going to be a huge part of that,” junior tight end Chris Coyle said. “Getting this last win is really going to help us with our momentum into next season and sort of just building on the offseason. Hopefully we get this win, just go into the offseason with a positive mindset and build from there.”
The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, played at AT&T Park, has a payout of $950,000 for its Pac-12 team and $750,000 for Navy. The game will be played at 2 p.m. Arizona time and broadcast on ESPN2.
ASU is scheduled to leave Arizona on Dec. 24 and practice in the Bay Area on Dec. 25, 26 and 27.