The 2018 Bowl season kicks off this week with a full slate of games including the most recent edition of the Las Vegas Bowl for those football fans looking for a great destination trip.
This year’s rendition of the game pits the newly ranked #21 Fresno State Bulldogs against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Sam Boyd Stadium and Las Vegas are almost directly between the two schools, so expect the crowd to be an even split between the two fan bases as they look for a fun trip to sin city capped off with a bowl win. The Pac-12 was notably left out of the college football playoff once again for the third straight year, so the conference will look to bowl season to bolster their reputation with a solid bowl record. They can get off to a good start if Arizona State can knock off the Mountain West Conference champions in Vegas.
2018 Las Vegas Bowl Preview: Arizona State vs. Fresno State
What: 2018 Las Vegas Bowl
Who: Arizona State Sun Devils vs Fresno State Bulldogs
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada (ABC)
When: Saturday, December 15, 2018, 3:30 pm EST
In Herm Edwards first year as head coach, Arizona State finished off their season with a 7-5 mark. This placed them second in the Pac-12 South division behind Utah. Expectations coming into the season were relatively low under the first year coach, but the Sun Devils were able to slightly overachieve behind a strong rushing attack and a revamped defense. They were one score away from knocking off eventual Pac-12 champion Washington and pulled off the upset against then-17th ranked Utah.
On offense, Arizona State has remained largely balanced, as they have dangerous weapons in the rushing and passing game. Sophomore running back Eno Benjamin has been productive all season, accounting for 1,524 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns in addition to 247 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. Benjamin has scored multiple touchdowns in six of the Sun Devils 12 games to this point. He will look to finish off the season with a school record as well, as he is only 42 yards away from breaking Woody Green’s long-standing record for most rushing yards in a single season set at 1,565 yards in 1972.
The biggest news for the Sun devils comes from their star 1,000-yard receiver N’Keal Harry. Harry has announced that he will forgo the Las Vegas bowl to prepare for the NFL draft.
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) November 26, 2018
It will be interesting to see how Arizona State’s offense will be affected without this 1-2 punch to pressure the Bulldogs top 20 defense. Benjamin will be relied on heavily if the Sun Devils are to emerge from the Nevada desert victorious.
Fresno State was able to avenge their loss in the 2017 Mountain West title game, winning at Boise State in overtime and taking the conference crown to finish championship weekend with an 11-2 mark and a top 25 ranking. Few programs have experienced the quick turnaround that Fresno State has enjoyed over the past few years. They have gone from a dreadful 1-11 2016 season to back-to-back double-digit winning seasons in 2017 and 2018. They are now one win away from setting a program record with 12 wins in a single season.
The Bulldog’s defense has been opportunistic all season, as shown by the team’s +13 turnover margin. The pass defense has been particularly troublesome for opposing signal callers. They have 17 interceptions as a team for the defense. With Arizona State down an elite receiver, look for Fresno State to load the box and make the Sun Devils challenge their talented secondary.
On offense, Fresno State will look to senior quarterback Marcus McMaryion to manufacture offense with his arm and his legs. Over this season, McMaryion has passed for 25 touchdowns and rushed for seven more. Meanwhile, he has limited mistakes and registering only 3 interceptions. The Bulldogs also have their own 1,000 receiver in KeeSean Johnson who will be suiting up for the game this weekend. He and McMaryion have connected for eight touchdowns. It’s no secret that outside of Washington State, quarterback play in the Pac-12 has been down this year. This combination of a veteran quarterback and talented receivers from Fresno State will provide a new challenge for the Sun Devil’s defense.
Many of the Fresno State players, especially these upperclassmen, were recruited to a losing program with aspirations of creating something special. They have persevered through a coaching change to become conference champions. Now comes a chance to be the best team in school history.
Arizona State is a team on the rise with a new coach of their own. However, losing star receiver Harry may prove to be too big a challenge to overcome. While Benjamin is a special back, losing an NFL talent like Harry is tough for any team to overcome. A one-dimensional offense does not pose well when confronted with this Bulldog defense.
Expect a valiant effort from Benjamin and company. However, the Bulldogs seem to have more to play for in this game. Bulldogs cash out with a win in Vegas, 28-20.