TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Herm Edwards is off to a successful start in his first stint as a college coach, turning Arizona State into a Pac-12 contender.
With it, he has raised the bar in the desert. The days of scratching for a bowl spot may be over.
The No. 25 Sun Devils are loaded with talented returning players, have one of the conference's best quarterbacks and have put themselves in position to possibly win a Pac-12 South championship — maybe more.
“We’re a focused football team,” Edwards said. “I think it has a lot to do with the players that decided to come back in the spring. That’s kind of where our mindset is right now, as far as what I know, what I see and feel about the players.”
The hiring of Edwards in 2017 raised a few eyebrows. The former NFL coach and TV analyst had never led a college program and there were questions about whether he could handle the world of recruiting and NCAA rules.
Edwards has proven the critics wrong, leading the Sun Devils to a pair of bowl games while proving to be an adept recruiter. Arizona State went 2-2 during the pandemic-interrupted 2020 season, but had the most lopsided win in Territorial Cup history, blowing out rival Arizona 70-7.
The Sun Devils are under an NCAA investigation for potential recruiting violations, but have their most talented roster in years, maybe since the 1996 Rose Bowl team.
Arizona State has put three assistant coaches on paid leave as the NCAA investigates the program for illegal recruiting practices.
The investigation centers on whether the Sun Devils had recruits on campus during an NCAA-mandated dead period. The NCAA called off visits to campuses by high school prospects in all sports and banned coaches from taking recruiting trips for more than a year because of COVID-19. In-person recruiting resumed June 1.
Arizona State has promoted three coaches to interim roles while the three suspended assistants are out. Edwards said he could not comment on the investigation, but doesn't believe it will be a distraction.
“All I know is with all the coaches this week, the conversation is never brought up,” Edwards said. “It’s football season. Play football. That’s what we’re all here to do.”
Jayden Daniels is poised to emerge as one of the nation's — not just the Pac-12's — best quarterbacks after a so-so first season under offensive coordinator Zak Hill.
Daniels was superb as a freshman, causing opposing defenses problems with his decision-making and ability to extend plays. The stop-and-start 2020 season made it difficult to get into a rhythm and Daniels was new to Hill's system, so his numbers weren't as impressive.
Daniels will be much more familiar with the offense and have more of it to utilize as a junior. He also will have a talented receiving corps to throw to after Arizona State had a young group last season and a strong run game to keep defenses from stacking up to stop him.
Arizona State should have a relatively easy time shaking the rust off as it opens the season with home games against Southern Utah and UNLV.
The Sun Devils will face a stiff test in their final nonconference game, playing at BYU, and kick off the Pac-12 schedule at home against Colorado.
Arizona State's conference road games won't be easy, with trips to Utah, Washington and UCLA. The Sun Devils close the season at home against rival Arizona.
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