The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl returns to downtown San Francisco and the Bay Area is all abuzz. Breaking away from the traditional New Year's Eve matchup for a Saturday afternoon game may set new attendance records.
For the 11th straight year, AT&T Park in downtown San Francisco will be the site for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The baseball park that is home to the San Francisco Giants has done an admirable job of hosting the postseason game, but the bowl game will be moving into its brand-new home in nearby Santa Clara starting in the 2014 season.
The Navy Midshipmen were the first team to receive bowl eligibility on Nov. 3 and accepted the bid to return to San Francisco. The Middies beat the New Mexico Lobos 34-19 on New Year's Eve to close out 2004.
While Navy knew for a long time where they would be headed in the postseason, the Arizona State Sun Devils did not find out until Selection Sunday. This will be the first-ever meeting of the two teams, and they could't be any more different—on or off the field.
There is the perception of Arizona State's laid-back, party-all-the-time lifestyle compared to the Naval Academy's hardcore lifestyle of discipline and service. On the field, the Sun Devils are a high-octane, quick-scoring offense with a bruising defense. The Midshipmen run a more controlled, even-keeled offense with a rarely seen triple option out of the backfield.
This is going to be a clash of two very different schools who have had a successful year and earned the right to play in this game. Here is everything that you need to know about the matchup.
Can Navy catch Arizona State off-guard?
When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 4 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Park, San Francisco, Calif.
Listen: 92.3-FM KTAR in the Phoenix area and across the state on the Sun Devil IMG Sports Network
Betting Line: Arizona State -14.0 (via Bovada.lv)
The Arizona State Sun Devils are favored heavily in this matchup after closing out the regular season with big wins over Washington State and on the road against the No. 24 Arizona Wildcats. This should not be difficult at all for the Sun Devils as they are 21st in the nation in scoring with an average of more than 36 points per game.
The running game for the Midshipmen is phenomenal, the sixth-best in the FBS, averaging more than 275 rushing yards per game. Unfortunately, all the rushing yards in the world don't matter if they don't convert into points on the scoreboard. The Midshipmen are ranked 86th in scoring with only 24.8 points per game.
Will Arizona State be fooled by Navy's triple option?
Arizona State RB Marion Grice has returned to the team after spending a week with family grieving the death of his brother prior to Christmas. Grice is expected to play and practiced Wednesday and Thursday.
Defensive tackle Will Sutton is listed as probable; he is dealing with a toe injury and will make a big impact in this game.
The others listed on the injury report (via USA Today):
Arizona State Sun Devils
- Kyle Middlebrooks, WR, Knee: Out
- Villiami Moeakiola, S, Hamstring: Out
- Corey Adams, DT, Back: Out
- Rashad Wadood, CB, Shoulder: Out
- Carlos Mendoza, LB, Shoulder: Out
- Bradyn Heap, C, Leg: Out
- John Howell, SB, Leg: Out
- Chris Johnson, OL, Knee: Out
- Evan Campbell, T, Ankle: Out
The senior running back from Columbia, S.C., leads the team in both rushing and receiving yards and is a threat whenever he is on the field. He averages an astounding 7.1 yards per rush, good enough for sixth-best in the country. Coming out of the backfield, he averages 17.8 yards per reception.
Although QB Keenan Reynolds has scored a third of all Navy's rushing touchdowns this season, Greene is tied at second-most on the team with five (three rushing and two receiving).
Greene has blistered teams with a team-high 59-yard rushing touchdown as well as a 41-yard receiving touchdown. He is the real deal and will put the hurt on when you least expect it.
Will Sutton is a defensive monster.
Following in the footsteps of former Arizona State linebacker, Terrell Suggs, Sutton is a consensus All-American and wreaks havoc on every quarterback he faces.
Sutton anchors a defense that is No. 2 in the country with 49 sacks and No. 6 with 20 interceptions. Sutton collected a team-high 10.5 sacks, good enough for third-best in the Pac-12 and No. 16 in the nation. He also led the conference in tackles for loss and placed fifth in the nation with a staggering 1.82 per game.
He was named the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, awarded the Morris Trophy for Most Outstanding Lineman in the Conference and All-American by six different associations and publications.
For a team that struggles to score as much as Navy does, I feel that Will Sutton and the Sun Devil defense are going to be out for a field day.
I believe that Navy's use of the triple option can be difficult to defend against unless you have a month to prepare for it.
Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly needs to come out firing on all cylinders and put the Midshipmen on their heels early on in the game. Kelly has an amazing 25 touchdowns on the season with only nine picks.
Kelly's potent backfield consists of a three-headed monster in senior Cameron Marshall, junior Marion Grice and freshman sensation D.J. Foster. Grice leads all running backs in the nation with eight receiving touchdowns and is tied at No.14 in the country for overall touchdowns at 17.
There should be no problem airing out the football for ASU QB Kelly as his favorite target, tight end Chris Coyle, finished the regular season as the third-best tight end in the nation for receptions and his total yards are fourth-best.
With so many offensive weapons in Todd Graham's arsenal and a limited game plan for Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, the Sun Devils should put up big numbers against this Navy team.
It all starts with putting up a couple of quick scores and rattling the freshman quarterback, Keenan Reynolds. The combination of both these will lead Navy to get impatient and abandon the triple option and go to the air. Navy averages only 110 yards of passing per game—yes, per game. Ranked 121st in the FBS is not where you want to be, especially going up against a team that has the sixth-most interceptions in the country.
Arizona State 45, Navy 17