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Arizona State's Jaelen Strong has big finish in Sun Bowl win


The Sun Bowl featured two of the nation's better wide receivers, and Arizona State junior Jaelen Strong finished his college career with a -- ahem -- strong game in a 36-31 win over Duke.

Duke senior Jamison Crowder had a strong game of his own, including tying for the ACC's career receptions lead.

Strong announced he was entering the 2015 draft earlier this week, and his final game for Arizona State featured seven receptions for 103 yards. It was his fifth 100-game game of the season and his sixth game with at least seven receptions.

NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks has said Strong has the potential "to be a No. 1 receiver" in the NFL. He is known for his physical nature, strong hands and overall athleticism, and perhaps the biggest question with Strong is his top-end speed. His 40 time will be scrutinized in the run-up to the draft; he seems likely to clock in the 4.5s, though a mark in the high 4.4s is possible. Strong looks to have a shot at being one of the top three receivers drafted, though being one of the top five seems more likely.

Strong is a Philadelphia native who arrived at Arizona State last year after a stint at a junior college. He finished this season with 82 catches for 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns; he had 75 receptions for 1,122 yards and seven TDs last season.

Crowder (5-9, 175) has been one of the most productive receivers in the nation over the last three seasons. As well as Strong played Saturday, Crowder was even better. He had seven receptions for 102 yards against the Sun Devils, scored on a 68-yard punt return late in the second quarter and threw a TD pass late in the fourth quarter that gave Duke a short-lived lead.

Brooks likes Crowder as a prospect, too, comparing him to Pittsburgh Steelers star Antonio Brown. "Now, I certainly understand the lofty expectations that come with linking Crowder to Brown ... but Crowder is one of the most polished receivers in college football, and his explosive combination of skills could make him a star at the next level," Brooks wrote last month.

Crowder finishes the season with 85 receptions, which gives him 283 for his career. That ties the ACC career mark held by former Blue Devils teammate Conner Vernon (2009-12). While Vernon went undrafted, Crowder won't meet that fate. He's not as good a prospect as Strong, but Crowder's production, hands and quickness -- he's quick more than fast -- mean he probably will be a mid-round pick. His punt-return TD Saturday was the fourth of his career, a school record.

Arizona State finished 10-3, marking the first time since 1972-73 that the Sun Devils have won 10 games in back-to-back seasons. Meanwhile, Duke (9-4) was looking for its first bowl win since the 1960 season; to be fair, this was just the Blue Devils' fifth postseason appearance since then. The Blue Devils also were looking for just their second 10-win season in school history (the only one came last season).

Mike Huguenin can be reached at You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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