Arizona State saw its regular season end in sour fashion with a loss in the Pac-12 title game. However, the Sun Devils can still claim an 11th victory for just the sixth time in program history.
They'll be heavy favorites to do so given Texas Tech's recent free fall.
The 16th-ranked Sun Devils look to avoid falling to 0-4 in the Holiday Bowl on Monday night in San Diego when they meet a Red Raiders team that lost five straight to end the season.
Despite losing its Pac-12 opener at then-No. 5 Stanford, Arizona State (10-3) secured home-field advantage for the conference title game by winning its next eight games in league play by an average of 19.7 points, including victories over ranked Washington and UCLA squads.
But the Sun Devils still couldn't topple the Cardinal, suffering their worst loss in more than three years with a 38-14 defeat. A win would have sent them to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1996 season.
"I really thought we were going to win. I really did," said coach Todd Graham, who won Pac-12 Coach of the Year in his second season with the Sun Devils. "We made mistakes and it took us a little long to make adjustments."
Arizona State still has a shot at one milestone it hasn't reached since that 1996 season, however: 11 wins. The Sun Devils will have to reverse their fortunes in San Diego to accomplish that feat, as they are 0-3 all time in the Holiday Bowl. Their most recent trip resulted in a 52-34 loss to Texas in 2007.
An appearance in San Diego might also be considered a disappointment for Texas Tech (7-5) given where the Red Raiders were in mid-October. The Red Raiders climbed as high as No. 10 before a 38-30 loss at then-No. 17 Oklahoma marked the beginning of their unraveling.
Texas Tech dropped its next four games by an average of 23.8 points, including a 41-16 loss at Texas to close out the season. Throw in the fact that quarterback Baker Mayfield - the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year - told coach Kliff Kingsbury on Dec. 11 that he intends to transfer, and it's no wonder Texas Tech is a two-touchdown underdog.
Despite being a walk-on, Mayfield won the starting job and threw for over 2,315 yards and totaled 15 TDs in eight games. Of Mayfield's departure, Kingsbury said "I didn't see it coming.
"We had a good talk. He didn't give me many specifics as to why," said Kingsbury, who said that Texas Tech intended to given Mayfield a scholarship next season. "But he definitely emphasized that he was ready to move on."
Kingsbury will choose between Davis Webb and Michael Brewer to lead the nation's second-leading passing offense (392.0 yards per game), though he said he wouldn't announce the team's starter prior to the game. The favorite figures to be fellow freshman Webb, who threw for 16 TDs.
Brewer, a sophomore, completed 7 of 10 passes for 65 yards and a score.
The bigger concern for Kingsbury may be his defense, which has surrendered an average of 504.6 yards during the five-game skid, including 294.0 on the ground.
Arizona State running back Marion Grice would likely relish a chance against that defense if he's able to play, and Graham said he expects him to after missing the final two games with a leg injury. Grice averaged 5.2 yards per carry and ran for 14 TDs.
After holding opponents to an average of 280.9 yards during a seven-game win streak, the Sun Devils had their own share of defensive issues versus Stanford, giving up 517 yards. They'll likely try to zero in on Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, whose 1,240 receiving yards are 89 shy of the NCAA single-season record by a tight end.
Rice's James Casey set the current mark in 2008.
The Red Raiders are trying to improve to 2-0 in the Holiday Bowl. Current offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie was 39 of 60 for 520 yards and three TDs in a 45-31 victory over California in 2004.
Arizona State won the teams' only previous meeting, 31-13 in Tempe on Sept. 6, 1999. Kingsbury was a backup quarterback in that game, going 2 for 5 for 15 yards.
The Sun Devils are 13-12-1 all-time in bowls while the Red Raiders are 13-21-1.
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