EL PASO, Texas – The sun will scoot its way to high noon on the final day of 2019 and foot will meet ball and, for the 86th time, they will play some exciting college football in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.
Arizona State brings a 7-5 record into the old bowl and Florida State comes in at 6-6.
A football season can pivot on a play or two – a mistake here or a special play there — and each of these teams were a play or two away from having an even better season.
CBS is televising this game for the 52nd year and it should be a fun, high scoring affair for the national audience. Florida State averaged 29.1 points a game and Arizona State put up an average of 25.2 points an outing.
Teams reflect the persona of their coach and each of these teams has an interesting persona at the helm.
Arizona State is led by Herm Edwards, the colorful, dynamic, energy-overloaded former NFL player and coach. Edwards, a beacon for anything positive, is an outstanding speaker and motivator.
The 65-year-old Edwards is in his second season as the Sun Devils head coach and has already put his imprint on the program with 14 wins. Edwards brought quite a resume to the desert southwest, playing 10 years in the NFL and serving as head coach for both the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs.
Edwards left his footprint forever in the NFL landscape with one of the league’s most iconic and memorable plays – the Miracle at the Meadowlands. Edwards, a defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles, scooped up a final second fumble by New York Giant quarterback Joe Pisarcik, returned it for a touchdown, snatching victory from certain defeat.
Edwards is also well known for his nine-year tenure as an entertaining analyst for ESPN.
Florid State coach Odell Haggins may be only an interim head coach but, in many ways, he casts a giant footprint for Florida State football. He was an outstanding interior lineman for the Seminoles and, after three years in the NFL, returned to the Seminole coaching staff.
Haggins, the associate head coach and defensive line coach, will return next season for his 27th season at Florida State, making him the longest tenured assistant coach in the nation.
Highlighted on an HBO 24/7 special this season, Edwards said, “When you are a coach, you’ve got to have fun. I think your team takes on your personality and this is a kid’s game.”
Haggins said, ‘We are excited about coming to El Paso and we will come there and play hard and have fun.”
Each of these football teams – mirroring their coaches – will indeed play with fun, play as if their hair were on fire and play with passion. That formula should lead to some special football on the final day of this year.
Arizona State is led by highly touted freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels. The 6-foot-3, four-star recruit out of California completed 193-of-310 passes for 2,748 yards and 17 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
“It was important not to put too much on his plate” Edwards said. “But he’s got some special traits. He missed the USC game (with an injury) so it was good for him to come in and go 7-4 as a freshman.”
Daniels led the Sun Devils to a road victory at Michigan State and then erased Oregon’s national title hopes with a clutch fourth quarter drive.
“The moments aren’t too big for him,” Edwards said.
Each of these teams has a 1,000-yard running back. Arizona State brings Eno Benjamin to the dance with his 1,083 yards and 10 touchdowns. Benjamin also caught 42 passes for 347 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
Florida State has Cam Akers, who ran for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Akers caught 30 passes for 225 yards and four touchdowns.
The Arizona State defense will offer resistance, especially against the run. The Sun Devils gave up just 116.8 yards per game rushing, 21st best in the nation against the run. Darien Butler led Arizona State with 79 tackles, five for a loss. He also had a sack and forced three fumbles. Jermaine Lole had 68 tackles, 8.5 for a loss and had five sacks. Khaylon Thomas had 11 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.
The Seminoles are led defensively by a pair of large and talented defensive tackles. Marvin Wilson, an All-ACC defensive tackle and a Bednarik Award semifinalist is 6-5 and 311-pounds and All-ACC counterpart Demarcus Christmas is 6-4 and 302-pounds.
The running backs will have their road blocks but will also likely have their moments but an aerial display should be the swipe the show at this 86th duel in the Sun.
Brandon Aiyuk was eighth in the nation for the Sun Devils, catching 65 passes for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns. Terry Tamorrion leads the Seminoles with 51 catches for 1,023 yards and eight touchdowns.
Each of these teams was a heartbeat away from better days but a heartbeat away from heartbreak as well.
Arizona State played eight teams that were bowl eligible and went 4-1 against ranked teams. The Sun Devils were ranked 18th in the nation at one point, starting with a 5-1 record. They then hit a series of speed bumps – losing at nationally ranked Utah, losing at UCLA then dropping a 31-26 decision to USC (without Daniels) and falling 35-34 at Oregon State.
But they rebounded with two big victories, dropping Oregon title hopes 31-28 and then beating rival Arizona 24-14.
“We went through a spurt in the third quarter of the season when we didn’t understand the importance of the little things and we didn’t handle our success very well,” Edwards said. “We were able to win our last two. The lull we went through … it was interesting to see if we could find our way out of it.”
The Sun Devils did that and they are here, ready for this high noon fiesta in the sun.
Florida State had a bit of a roller coaster ride and the result was Haggins taking over the interim head coaching duties for the final four games. The Seminoles had a trio of “what if” losses to three good football teams – falling 36-31 to Boise State, 31-24 to Virginia and 22-20 to Wake Forest.
But Haggins brought the Seminoles home and to this moment in the Sun.
“We stayed together as a family at the end,” Haggins said. “The kids fought together. The coaches stayed together. We are Florida State. We have a great brand. We can do this together but we can’t do this by ourselves.
And so these two storied programs have negotiated the journey that is a football season and are here, ready for one more special opportunity – ready to play one more football game in 2019, ready to play in a bowl game, ready for a special duel on CBS in this 86th annual Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.
(story by Bill Knight on behalf of the Sun Bowl Association)
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