A frequent visitor and an old friend will meet in El Paso for the 86th Annual Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
The Pac-12 representative Arizona State Sun Devils (7-5) will make their seventh appearance in the game, while the ACC’s Florida State Seminoles (6-6) will return to the Sun City for the first time since 1966.
Florida State leads the all-time series with Arizona State 3-1 and has won three straight against the Sun Devils – the last time in 1984.
Florida State is appearing in the game for an NCAA-best 38th time in the last 40 seasons, while Arizona State is making its 32nd appearance and its eighth in the last nine seasons.
Though the Sun Devils will be playing in their third Sun Bowl in six years, it’ll be the first go around for head coach Herman Edwards.
“Some of our players have participated in the Sun Bowl and they all say El Paso was a great host city and that everything surrounding the game was first class,” he said.
Though he’s never coached in El Paso, it won’t be Edwards’ first time here.
“When I went to San Diego State, I played in a game down there (against UTEP). We were fortunate enough to win so that made it even more fun.”
As far as his opponent on Dec. 31, Herman knows his team has to be focused.
“Historically, you know what you’re dealing with when you play Florida State,” Edwards said. “It’s an honor and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Sun Devils are led by freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels, who completed over 62% (193-310) of his passes for 2,748 yards and 17 touchdowns, against just two interceptions.
First-team, All Pac-12 running back Eno Benjamin, who will forego his senior season and enter next season’s NFL draft, leads the team with 1,083 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 42 passes for 347 yards and two more scores.
Brandon Aiyuk and Frank Darby lead the team with eight touchdown catches. Aiyuk, who was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team, has 65 catches for 1,192 yards, while Darby caught 28 passes for 597 yards.
Punter Michael Turk, who averaged 46 yards per attempt, was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team.
After opening the season 5-1, ASU lost four straight games before righting the ship and winning their final two match ups.
“We didn’t handle our early success very well,” Edwards said.
“We stopped doing the little things that make a team successful. But we were able to find our way again with wins over sixth-ranked Oregon and Arizona to close on a good note.”
Florida State had an up-and-down season, losing to a number of ranked teams, including No. 3 Clemson, No. 9 Florida, No. 19 Boise State and No. 24 Virginia.
Mike Norvell, who coached Memphis to a 12-1 record and a spot in this year’s Cotton Bowl, will take over as the new Seminoles head coach.
However, long-time Florida State assistant coach Odell Haggins Jr. has been named interim head coach and will be in charge of the team at the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.
“We’re preparing for this bowl game and we want to have a good time but we also want to play hard,” said Haggins, who is in his 26th season at FSU. “We’re playing a very good opponent and that’s all we’re thinking about.”
“Arizona State is a very good football team,” he said. “They’re disciplined, they’re playing hard and they’ve beaten some good football teams this year.”
This will be the first time in the Sun Bowl Stadium for the FSU coach.
“I’ve never been to El Paso before, and a lot of our players haven’t either, so I think it’s going to be a great experience for them and our fans. It’s new part of the country for most of us. I think everyone is excited to go out there.”
The Seminoles are led on offense by All-ACC Second Team running back Cam Akers, who gained 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also caught four touchdown passes.
Quarterback James Blackman connected on 64 percent (170-266) of his passes for 2,095 yards and 16 touchdowns, to go with his seven interceptions.
Terry Tamorrion leads FSU with 51 catches for 1,023 yards and eight scores.
On defense, the Seminoles are led by All-ACC First Team defensive tackle Marvin Wilson. The 6-5, 311-pound junior recorded 44 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, who was named to the All-ACC Second Team, leads the teams in tackles with 101. He also has two interceptions and three forced fumbles.
Haggins has seen improvement in his squad and believes it comes down to family.
“We’re a family,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been preaching to the team for the last month.”