2021 Las Vegas Bowl Preview: Wisconsin vs Arizona State

Braelon Allen and the Wisconsin Badgers travel to Las Vegas to take on Arizona State for the first annual 2021 Las Vegas Bowl
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2021 SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl Preview

What: Wisconsin vs Arizona State

When: Thursday, December 30th, 9 pm CT

Where: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada

Network: ESPN

Amidst a chaotic month headlined by the new Omicron variant of the never-ending Covid-19 pandemic, the Wisconsin Badgers will be playing in the first annual 2021 RS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl. Coming into the affair, the 8-4 Badgers will be facing the 8-4 Arizona State Sun Devils out of the Pac 12 Conference.

These two teams are very similar from a surface-level perspective. However, stylistically different both are, the two shared lofty preseason expectations, frustrating early-season losses, and overall disappointment in how both seasons panned out. Both teams will be missing a bevy of players due to Covid-19, 0pt outs, and transfers amongst other things. A win in the bowl game can provide a jump start into a positive 2022 campaign for both programs.

How They Got Here:

Wisconsin

Paul Chryst and the Wisconsin Badgers entered the season ranked 12th in the AP Poll. Early season losses to power programs Penn State, Michigan, and Notre Dame gave Bucky a 1-3 entering October. With a struggling Graham Mertz, an underperforming offensive line, and no true identity, the Badgers were in the midst of a crisis.

Then, Braelon Allen was introduced. Behind the six-foot-two-inch 240lb 17-year-old early freshman enrollee, the Badgers began to reassert their dominance in the Big Ten West division. Rattling off seven straight wins, the Badgers entered the Battle for the Axe with a win and you’re in scenario for the Big Ten Championship Game.

And then it stopped.

Behind an inspiring defensive effort, the Gophers shut down Allen and forced Mertz and company to beat them through the air. He did not beat them through the air, and instead, the regular season abruptly ended in a 23-13 rivalry loss at the hands of PJ Fleck. Now left with a bitter taste in their mouth, the Badgers are looking to lick their wounds and regroup heading into 2022 with a vengeful mindset.

Arizona State

Like the Badgers, the Sun Devils too shared lofty expectations coming into the season. Winning the Pac 12 south, a conference championship, and perhaps a dark horse for the playoff were all in reason coming into September.

By the end of October, each one of those dreams was dashed. A team that came into the season as the 2nd highest-ranked team in the conference fell into the dark hole that is the Pac 12. 8-4 is nothing to be ashamed of. However,  there are high expectations under fourth-year coach Herm Edwards.

Quarterback Jayden Daniels may have a future in the NFL, but those will wait for now as he finishes off a disappointing campaign in Tempe. Moreover, the struggles by Daniels symbolized a team that was inconsistent on both sides of the ball. With a win over a strong Big Ten opponent, hope can be restored heading into a pivotal 2022 season.

What To Watch For:

Wisconsin comes into this game rushing for 215 yards per game. Conversely, Arizona State’s strength defensively is its rush defense, yielding just over three-and-a-half yards per carry. Still, expect a heavy diet of Allen early and often. Allen ran for over 100 yards in seven of the final eight games, including a mammoth 223 yard game vs Nebraska.

With that being said, the Sun Devils will be missing their two top corners. Both decided to opt out. This could be the perfect opportunity to establish Mertz early and get him some much-needed momentum heading into 2022. The embattled sophomore quarterback has faced criticism every step of the way the last two years. A positive performance here can open the door to a resurgent season next fall.

As mentioned, the Sun Devils will be missing a large contingent of playmakers on both sides of the ball. Even with the presence of Daniels, he’ll be without his top two running backs due to an opt out, and transfer. Their top back, senior Rachaad White, will be skipping the game to prepare for the NFL Draft.

Despite that, Daniels is still the top playmaker on this offense. Using both his arm and his legs, it will be pivotal for Jim Leonhard’s defense to contain him. The Badgers’ most recent run-in with a mobile QB saw their defense shattered with big plays. That was Adrian Martinez and Nebraska, who racked up over 450 yards of offense and were a mere 20 yards away from an upset. Time will tell if the Badgers have learned any lessons, but they’ll be reliant on All-Big Ten linebackers Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal.

Concluding Remarks

In a world where bowl games are beginning to be more and more insignificant, the 2021 Las Vegas Bowl represents the opposite. Both teams have failed to live up to expectations. Both teams will be looking to set the record straight in 2022. Moreover, a victory here for either program can provide the launch to that platform for a successful 2022 season.

That being said, the Sun Devils are missing playmakers all over the field, expect the Badgers to take advantage behind 2022 Heisman hopeful, Allen.

Score Prediction: Wisconsin 27 Arizona State 17