Cactus Bowl Pick

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Cactus Bowl

West Virginia

vs.

Arizona State

1/2/16

These teams aren’t too pleased with how this season went, both finishing with losing Conference records at 4-5. West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen was even rumored to be on the firing block after its last loss. Arizona State opened as slight favorites in the Cactus Bowl, but the Mountaineers moved to -1 point favorites shortly after at 5Dimes Sportsbook.

There’s no real reason West Virginia moved to favorites in this Game, other than that Arizona State finished with one less win at 6-6. The Mountaineers lost their first Four Big 12 Games, mostly due to a tough Schedule. They then went on to win their next Four, but couldn’t get an eighth win at Kansas State in the season finale. WVU had talent to compete with the top teams, but couldn’t win any of those Games.

Arizona State did get a couple nice wins, at UCLA early in the year and then back-to-back against Washington and Arizona, but road losses to Washington State and California took away any joy from those Games. Their defense failed them throughout the season, giving up 61 points to Oregon and 48 to Cal.

That’s where the advantage is for the Mountaineers, who are a little tougher on the defensive end. They gave up 62 points to Baylor, but held plenty of offenses down, most notably Texas Tech to 26 points.

As for the Sun Devils, they gave up an unbelievable 320-plus passing yards per Game, second worst in the country. That’s where WVU quarterback Skyler Howard comes in, who played well in his first season as the team’s starter. While Howard had some deficiencies (54.8% completion rate, 12 INTs), he still had 27 total touchdowns. But, he only passed for more than 300 yards once and that was back in the first Game of the season. The Mountaineers love to run the ball, but passing with Howard may be the better route for attack here. Although this offense isn’t going to shy away from using running backs Wendall Smallwood (1,447 yards, 9 TDs) and Rushel Shell (677 yards, 8 TDs).

Nevertheless, if the Sun Devils get a lead, there’s always the chance that Howard can bring this team back. The most worrisome number for Howard was in his last Game against Kansas State, also a bad secondary, as he completed 19-of-42 passes for only one touchdown. Howard needs to be better in this Game.

Arizona State has the offensive advantage, also led by first-year starting quarterback Mike Bercovici. He finished with better numbers than Howard across the board with 32 total TDs and 9 INTs. Three different receivers have at least 53 grabs for ASU, so locking down on one receiver isn’t a problem for Bercovici. The Sun Devils also have a decent ground Game led by Demario Richard (1,050 yards, 7 TDs) and power back Kalen Ballage.

WVU’s defense has been feisty, but against better Big 12 offenses this year, had trouble. The Mountaineers only won Games this year when holding opponents under 30 points and they’ll need to do that against an offense that averaged 33.8 points per Game.

The Sun Devils have failed to cover in Four straight neutral-site Games, while the Mountaineers haven’t covered in Four straight following a straight-up loss. In disappointing seasons, both teams finished with 5-7 ATS records.

Our Pick – WVA -1