- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - Arizona State and Duke have a lot of unfinished business - and a lot of similarities - heading into the 81st Sun Bowl.

The Blue Devils (9-3) are playing in a bowl for the third consecutive season, but they’re still looking for their first postseason win since the 1961 Cotton Bowl after close losses the past two years.

“It’s really important for all of us, especially the older guys who have been through those tough seasons,” said senior linebacker David Helton, the ACC’s leading tackler the past two years. “(To win) would be the pinnacle of our careers. It would be a very big achievement for us.”

Like their opponent, the No. 15 Sun Devils (9-3) will be trying to win 10 games for the second consecutive season Saturday in the picturesque El Paso stadium.

“For us to have back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in about 30 years would be a big success for our school, so it’s very important,” receiver Jaelen Strong said.

The game will be Strong’s final one at ASU. He has declared that he’ll skip his senior year to enter the NFL draft.

“This whole week is going to be bittersweet for me,” Strong said. “I’m just taking time to enjoy everything with my teammates. I’m just soaking it all up.”

Arizona State takes a 13-13-1 record into its 28th bowl appearance, while Duke tries to win in the postseason for the first time since beating Arkansas 7-6 almost 54 years ago in Dallas.

“We get a chance to play one of the top teams in the nation in Arizona State,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team is a seven-point underdog. “It’s been a long time since we have won a bowl game. We’d love to send our seniors out with a win.”

Some other things to know about the Sun Bowl:

LOOKING IN THE MIRROR: Both offenses average more than 30 points, with Arizona State ranking 18th nationally. And both are led by impressive quarterback-receiver tandems: Taylor Kelly and Strong for the Sun Devils, and Anthony Boone-Jamison Crowder for the Blue Devils.

JUST MISSING OUT: Both teams were in position to reach their conference title games. ASU lost two of its last three Pac-12 matchups, including an upset at Oregon State and a 42-35 heartbreaker at rival Arizona. Duke was 8-1 before falling to Virginia Tech and North Carolina and finishing with a 41-21 victory against Wake Forest.

“If they make a field goal, they would’ve been in the ACC championship game,” ASU coach Todd Graham said of the Blue Devils. “We’re both going for back-to-back, double-digit wins. So it will be a heck of a football game.”

STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH: Kelly has 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions and is third in ASU history with 75 TDs passing. Strong has gone over 1,000 yards receiving all three seasons with the Sun Devils. But the Duke defense is 21st nationally in scoring defense at 20.6 points per game.

“They’re very sound defensively,” Kelly said. “We’re very balanced in what we do, running and passing the football. You have so many different options. It’s a ton of fun. The defense can never know where it’s going to go.”

SNOW BOWL? Probably not, but it was close. The stadium was covered in a light dusting of snow Friday, but the forecast Saturday is for partly sunny skies with a high near 50.

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