One team looks to send their head coach a winner while the other looks to close the season by winning three of their last four in the 84th Hyundai Sun Bowl at 1 p.m. MST on Friday afternoon as Arizona State faces NC State.
The Sun Devils (7-5) are led by head coach and Texas native Todd Graham and will look to ride a wave of emotion as he coaches his final game. Meanwhile, NC State (8-4) finished in the Top 25 of the final CFP rankings and will look to springboard 2018 with a win under head coach Dave Doeren.
As the two teams get set to meet in the desert, here are some key players to watch for on Friday afternoon.
NC State: Nyheim Hines – RB
As a running back, a receiver and a kick returner, Nyheim Hines can make defenses pay for his versatility on the field.
Hines finished his junior season as a second-team All-American, leading the team with 1,040 rushing yards, despite battling injuries throughout the season.
He is the only player in program history to have two 100-yard kickoff returns in a career.
“When he hasn’t been out there, we’ve lost in those games,” Doeren said. “Had some of injuries where we’ve missed him. He’s dynamic; he’s one play away from scoring a touchdown every time because of his speed. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Currently, he leads the ACC in all-purpose yardage with 147.8 yards per game, which is also eighth in FBS.
He says he brings to the table “a little bit of speed, a little bit of versatility and a whole lot of heart.”
Arizona State: Demario Richard- RB
The senior running back has some history in this game. When the Sun Devils faced Duke in the Hyundai Sun Bowl in 2014, the then-freshman running back scored four touchdowns and was named the offensive MVP.
As he closes his out his college career, Richard remains the leading rusher for the Sun Devils, rushing for 977 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
He and fellow senior running back Kalen Ballage present a tough physical combination in the backfield and will look to be instrumental in coming out on top.
“It feels good to be home,” Richard said, “I’m glad to be playing my last game with my brothers and hopefully we can do the same thing that we did last time.”
NC State: Jerod Fernandez – LB
With a player like standout defensive end Bradley Chubb likely to sit out this game to prepare for the NFL draft, look for senior linebacker Jerod Fernandez to lead the way for the Wolfpack on defense.
Fernandez finished his senior season with a team-best 93 total tackles on defense and is a fast, elusive linebacker.
“It’s been a lot of fun, just enjoy it,” Fernandez said. “I don’t have anymore bowl games after this—a lot of seniors don’t have another bowl game after this—so we want to go out on top.”
Arizona State: DJ Calhoun – LB
The senior linebacker is one of the more underrated talents in the country and he’ll be looking to put on a strong performance in his final college game.
The second leading tackler (94) on the Sun Devils is one of the best when it comes to wrapping up. The inside linebacker has missed just one tackle on the year and is first nationally among inside linebackers in tackling efficiency.
Nyheim Hines will provide a tough challenge for Arizona State’s defense and he’ll have to step up big for the Sun Devil defense.
NC State: Jaylen Samuels – KR/PR
While Hines has been the man to take back significant kick returns this season, Jaylen Samuels has been a strong replacement whenever Hines was hurt. Samuels finished his senior season with 174 kick return yards and when the ball is in his hands, he can truly make plays.
“A guy that fills a lot of places offensively, whether he’s wide receiver, running back, wild cat quarterback,” said head coach Dave Doeren. “He’s a versatile young man that does a lot for us.”
Arizona State: Brandon Ruiz – K
The true freshman kicker has shown to have a pretty steady leg this season and has come up with a few clutch kicks of his own this season.
With a long of 52 yards, Ruiz has shown that he has the leg to come through. The Sun Bowl can be a tricky place for kickers due to the swirling winds, but if this game is close, Ruiz will be asked to come up with a big kick in a big spot.
NC State: B.J. Hill – DT
There’s no hiding it, Arizona State is going to be prided on their explosive attack, scoring 30-plus points in their final games and winning five of their last seven games.
With Chubb out of the picture, it will be up to senior tackle B.J. Hill to attack the pass on the defensive line. He’s had 5.5 tackles for losses and three sacks this season on the line.
“(Hill is a) warrior,” Doeren said. “(He) loves football. A tone-setter guy when it comes to their temperament and how he approaches not just practice, but the preparation.”
Arizona State: N’Keal Harry – WR
The five-star prospect from Arizona has caught a pass in every game of his college career thus far.
NC State will be focused to slowing down the two-headed rushing attack of Richard and Ballage, but Harry will present the Wolfpack defense its own challenge.
The leading receiver has 1,000 yards on the dot to go with seven touchdowns and the 6-4 target will be a go-to for quarterback Manny Wilkins and the Sun Devil offense.
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