The Mountain West Conference champion Fresno State Bulldogs, who came in No. 21 n the final College Football Playoff rankings, are headed back to the Las Vegas Bowl to take on Arizona State.
The game will be Saturday, Dec. 15. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and the game will be televised by ABC, the virtual kickoff of the bowl season.
“Any bowl is big but to be the conference champion and representing the Mountain West, representing the Valley and the Red Wave, it’s a huge deal,” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said. “That’s how we’ll approach it. We’re going there to have fun, but we’re going there to do our best to win the game.”
The Red Wave showed its support for the Bulldogs by showing up to applaud their return to campus after Saturday night’s win at Boise State.
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Tedford traveled separately but said, “I saw videos of it. ... It was amazing. I know the players got a big charge out of it.”
The Bulldogs (11-2), who clinched the conference championship with a 19-16 victory at Boise State in overtime, will have a chance to win 12 games in a season for the first time in school history. They last played in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2013, following their second of now three Mountain West titles. That team, led by quarterback Derek Carr, lost to USC 45-20.
Fresno State also played in the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl, coach Pat Hill’s first bowl team, and lost 17-16 to Utah.
The matchup pits Fresno State against one of the more colorful figures in the sport, Arizona State coach Herm Edwards. He coached eight seasons in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets, then spent nine seasons as a pro football analyst for ESPN before returning to the sidelines this season.
Edwards is known for his “Hermisms,” most notably a postgame quote from his time as Jets coach: “You play to win the game!”
The quote became so synonymous with Edwards that it became the title of his book, written with ESPN’s Shelley Smith, about leadership on and off the field.
Edwards grew up on the Monterey Peninsula and played at Cal, Monterey Peninsula College and San Diego State. He spent 10 seasons as an NFL defensive back, nine with the Philadelphia Eagles, and earned another spot in football history: Edwards had the fumble return for the Eagles when the New York Giants were trying to run out the clock, a play that many say led to the victory formation in football.
Fresno State and Arizona State are scheduled to play in the 2023 season in Tempe. Arizona State leads the all-time series 3-0 with wins in 1931, 1933 and 1941; two of those games were played in Fresno.
Here is a quick look at Arizona State, 7-5 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-12 ...
Sun Devils in 30 words or less: Arizona State lost to San Diego State and was 3-4 through the middle of the season, but got on track rushing the ball behind Eno Benjamin.
The matchup: The Bulldogs survived Boise State mashing Alexander Mattison at them 40 times in the Mountain West Conference championship game and they get another talented running back in Benjamin, who is just 42 yards away from setting a single-season school record for rushing yards.
Benjamin, a 5-10, 200-pound sophomore, has churned out 1,524 yards at 5.5 yards per play.
Down the stretch, with the Sun Devils going 4-1, he averaged 28.0 carries and 154.2 yards per game while scoring eight touchdowns and that run includes a matchup against Utah in which he gained 175 yards with two scores.
The Utes led the Pac-12 in rushing defense, allowing 101.8 yards per game and 3.0 yards per play.
Arizona State also has a big-play threat outside in N’Keal Harry, who is ranked in the top five in the Pac-12 in receptions (73, third), receiving yards (1,088, second) and receiving touchdowns (9, tied for third).
Fresno State could get some things done against the Sun Devils’ defense, which has three true freshmen who have played more than 600 snaps this season and during that same five-game stretch allowed an average of 30.8 points per game.
They played two of the top scoring teams in the Pac-12 in Oregon (second) and Arizona (third), but also two of the worst scoring teams in the conference in USC (10th) and UCLA (11th).
Arizona State is led by linebacker Merlin Robertson, one of those true freshman, who has been credited with 77 tackles including 48 solo. The Sun Devils also are averaging 7.2 tackles for loss and 2.4 sacks per game, second and fourth in the Pac-12.
The bottom line: This is a game Fresno State could win, which would give the Bulldogs the first 12-win season in school history.