Sun Bowl Pick – Florida State vs. Arizona State – 12/31/19

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On one side of the field, it’s more about the future than this game, while the other side is kind of just happy to be playing another game. Florida State found its new coach (Mike Norvell), but he won’t be leading the team as an underdog in the Sun Bowl. Arizona State was an early -4.5 point favorite with an over/under of 54.5 for the game in El Paso.

Odell Haggins has been at Florida State his entire career and he’ll lead the team as interim coach in this matchup after taking over the final three games of the regular season (of note, Haggins won the 2017 bowl game in almost the exact situation at 6-6).

The season was over from the start for the Seminoles, who let a game against Boise State slip away. They had trouble the rest of the way, mainly against good defenses, and that resulted in a 6-6 record.

It’s the second season and second bowl for Herm Edwards, who can’t complain about that. It wasn’t the best season for Arizona State, losing four straight at one point, but it closed on a nice run including the major upset of Oregon.

The Sun Devils were known for defense a year ago, but they slipped in the second half of the season and never found their footing again, though keeping Oregon to seven points in the first three quarters was impressive. Most of the issues came through the air where they allowed 7.4 yards per pass compared to 3.4 yards per rush. 

That’ll come in handy in this matchup because FSU needs a ground game to put points on the board. Running back Cam Akers is the main reason they’re here, but after rushing for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns, he’s moving straight to the NFL and not playing in this matchup.

That likely leaves a lot of touches for Khalan Laborn (if eligible), who ran it 63 times for 297 yards. As for quarterback, James Blackman closed as the starter and should feature given that Alex Hornibrook is no longer with the team.

Blackman’s future at FSU is unknown after averaging 7.9 yards per pass for 16 touchdowns and seven picks. He at least has a stud in top wideout Tamorrion Terry, who led the team with 1,023 yards and eight touchdowns.

In addition to a shaky offense, the ‘Noles weren’t great on the other side of the ball, either. They gave up 28.5 points per game and similar to the Sun Devils, were worse against the pass, giving up 7.1 yards per pass compared to 3.7 yards per rush.

But while ASU hit a minor rough patch in its season, the offense has a great future with freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels, who torched Oregon for 408 yards and three touchdowns.

This is another perfect spot for him to show what he can do on a national stage after averaging 8.9 yards per attempt for 17 touchdowns and two interceptions, as well as 319 yards on the ground (29 sacks included).

Top wideout Brandon Aiyuk isn’t playing, but running back Eno Benjamin can do plenty himself. Benjamin struggled behind a weak offensive line en route to 1,083 yards and 10 touchdowns on 4.3 yards per carry, but he added 42 receptions for 347 more yards.

Once Daniels found his footing after a late-season injury, this team looked a bit different. He added a spark to the offense and the defense showed some life. Those last two games showed a lot and could be what separates these teams as Florida State simply wants to put this season to bed and look to the future with Norvell.

Arizona State has failed to cover in its last eight games as a favorite and the under has hit in its last four non-conference games. Florida State has failed to cover its last six non-conference games and the over is 7-1 in its last eight neutral-site games.

Our Pick – These two teams were, well, just ok this year. The major difference between the two was that Arizona State has a signature win against a top 10 team in Oregon, while Florida State was outclassed twice by top teams Florida and Clemson.

Arizona State losses to UCLA, Colorado and Oregon State, all teams with a power rating less than Florida States, would make the case for the Noles having a good shot here. Likewise, FSU wins over Louisville and BC and a 2 point loss to Wake Forest, continue to build that case.

Lastly, our model has this game as a toss up, making the +4.5 points being offered with the Florida State side attractive.

Florida State +4.5

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