The Sun Devils led by Jayden Daniels look to stake their claim as the best team in the conference
Photo: Sun Devil Athletics
Article By: Christopher Caravello
With the Pac 12 back on track to participate in the college football season this fall, the debate can finally begin on who is best poised to win this very delayed conference-only campaign. One team that has been given a lot of attention this offseason is Arizona State University. The Sun Devils made it to the conference title game once in the Pac 12 era, losing at home to Stanford in 2013. 7 long years later, can ASU finally make it back to the title game, and win it this time? We will discuss why the Devils can pull it off.
1. Jayden Daniels
The talented sophomore is looking to follow up on a promising true-freshman season in which he started from Day 1. After shocking Oregon in Tempe to ruin the Ducks playoff aspirations and defeating FSU in the Sun Bowl, Daniels looks to take the next step in raising the expectations in Tempe. Daniels threw for almost 3,000 yards last season and tossed 17 TDs while starting all but one game. Even more importantly, he only threw 2 interceptions, showing the ability to avoid putting his team in bad situations despite the fact it was his first collegiate season. The win over Oregon in which he performed fantastically against a talented secondary showed that he has the skills needed for ASU to beat the top teams in the conference. When the game was on the line against the Ducks, as well as on the road at Michigan State and against Wazzu, Daniels stayed calm and poised while making the necessary plays needed to win the game. With the departure of RB Eno Benjamin to the NFL, Daniels will need to be stellar for ASU to continue to evolve as an offense under new OC Zak Hill.
2. Opt Outs
With the delay to the Pac 12 season, several star players around the conference have decided to opt out and prepare for the NFL draft. Thankfully for ASU, none of those players reside in Tempe. While the North teams have been hit the hardest by the opt outs, South rival USC has lost DT Jay Tufele. After failing to meet expectations under head coach Clay Helton the past few seasons, the Trojans could ill afford to lose a player of such high caliber like Tufele. Should ASU find a way to win the South division, they would likely be playing against Oregon, Washington, or Cal squads that have already lost elite talent opting out of the season or transferring to other programs.
3. The Defense
While the offense will need to replace Eno Benjamin and Brandon Aiyuk, the defensive unit remains largely intact and will now be co-led by former NFL coach Marvin Lewis and former NFL LB Antonio Pierce. This side of the ball also has the possibility of seeing some help from talented incoming freshmen DT Omarr Norman-Lott and LB Jordan Banks. Worth noting is ASU’s shift from a 3-3-5 defensive scheme to a 4-3, which will force an experienced secondary that has given up explosive plays in the past to hold their own. With divisional foes such as Utah losing a ton of offensive production this season, the Sun Devils defense could be a key factor in competing for the title.
4. Zak Hill
The hiring of Zak Hill from Boise State should reassure Sun Devil fans that Herm Edwards has acknowledged the need for explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball. When he was hired, Hill stated that his offense will be built around QB Jayden Daniels strengths. Despite the positive aspects of Daniels true-freshman season, the Sun Devils offense ranked 94th in the country while averaging a paltry 25.2 points per game. While under Hill, Boise State ranked 14th in scoring and if he can successfully install his offense in Tempe it will bode well for ASU’s Pac 12 title hopes. Returning WR Frank Darby, who averaged nearly 20 yards a catch in 2019, should help ASU ease into the new offense under Hill.
5. The Schedule
The Pac 12’s 3rd version of the 2020 college football schedule was released today, and it will kick off with none other than Arizona State taking on USC in Los Angeles…at 9 AM PT. With this bizarre kickoff time right out of the gate, and lack of fans inside the LA Coliseum, the Sun Devils have an incredible opportunity to make a statement right from the beginning of the season, with a national audience tuning in. Herm Edwards measured approach to preparing this team should have the Sun Devils in a better position to win this game than his counterpart, embattled USC coach Clay Helton. If ASU can take down preseason favorite USC in week 1, the rest of the South division could be theirs for the taking. The 2nd game of the season is against Cal, the lone cross-divisional game on the schedule, and preferable to playing at Oregon one would think. After these two tests, the schedule lightens considerably with a visit to Colorado, a reloading Utah coming to Tempe, a visit from UCLA, and then the rivalry game in Tucson. The path to an ASU conference title game appearance will be tested early in those first two weeks of the season. Survive those two games, and it could be a special season for the Sun Devils.