TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State has one of the Pac-12's best quarterbacks, loads of returning talent and a roster full of players recruited by coach Herm Edwards.
No wonder expectations are higher than they've been in recent memory.
Now it's time to see what these Sun Devils can do on the field.
No. 25 Arizona State takes the first step in what it hopes will be the best of four seasons under Edwards when it hosts Southern Utah on Thursday night.
“This is going to be our first test this year at home with some fans, which should be fun and I’m just looking forward to watching us play,” Edwards said. “At times it won’t look pretty, I get it, it’s the first day, it’s the first game so we have to deal with all of that.”
Arizona State went to bowl games in Edwards' first two seasons back on the sideline but sputtered through a pandemic-altered 2020 that was limited to four games, going 2-2.
The Sun Devils appear to be in position for a big bounce back.
Arizona State is loaded on offense, led by junior quarterback Jayden Daniels, and may be even better on defense even after losing lineman Jermayne Lole to what may be a season-ending triceps injury.
The opener against the FCS Thunderbirds should allow the Sun Devils to ease into the season, if there is such a thing in football.
Southern Utah was picked to finish 11th of 13 teams in the Big Sky Conference after going 1-5 during a pandemic-delayed spring football season earlier this year and opened its fall season with a 45-14 loss at San Jose State. The Thunderbirds have lost 11 straight games against FBS opponents since beating South Alabama in 2013.
The key for the Sun Devils will be to avoid complacency against what should be an overmatched opponent and not let the emotions of opening day run too high.
“We just have to be us,” Edwards said. "I’ve always said that you always prepare for an opponent but it’s really about you. It’s, ‘What type of team do you want to be?’”
Daniels' numbers were down last season due to the disjointed pandemic season, a new offense and coordinator, and being surrounded by young skill players.
The Sun Devils are expecting Daniels to return to the dynamic form he had as a freshman, when he threw for 2,943 yards, ran for 355 more and accounted for 20 touchdowns.
Daniels now has more than a year of playing in offensive coordinator Zak Hill's offense and those young players around him are now experienced, which should put him in position to again be one of the Pac-12's top quarterbacks.
Daniels has turned it over five times in 618 career plays, fewest among FBS quarterbacks since 2019.
Arizona State's biggest challenge may be on the offensive side of the ball.
Southern Utah plays an attacking defense and linebacker La’akea Kaho’ohanohano-Davis was a first-team FCS All-American after dominating during the spring season. The Thunderbirds forced two turnovers against San Jose State, including an 18-yard interception return for a touchdown by Kobe Singleton, after forcing two in six games during the spring.
Despite the turnovers, Southern Utah had a hard time slowing down the Spartans, allowing 543 total yards, including 410 passing.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Thunderbirds coach Demario Warren said. “Arizona State doesn’t care what we just went through. They’re going to be a top-25 team, so we’ll see what happens."
Arizona State has won 21 straight home openers, the nation's fourth-longest active streak behind Florida (31), Wisconsin and Oklahoma State (25). ... Southern Utah QB Justin Miller threw for 1,713 yards and 15 TDs in six games last season. He threw for 117 yards last week. ... The Sun Devils are 11th among Power Five programs with 40 takeaways since 2019. ... Southern Utah OL Braxton Jones was an FCS All-American last season. ... Arizona State's secondary is one of the most experienced in the country, combining for 123 career starts. Only Indiana's secondary has more with 123.
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