Arizona State is 17-13 in three seasons under coach Herm Edwards, but the No. 25 Sun Devils are a trendy pick to make noise in the Pac-12 this season.
Arizona State gets started on that quest when it entertains FCS program Southern Utah (0-1) on Thursday night at Tempe, Ariz.
The Sun Devils went 2-2 in the abbreviated 2020 schedule, so the forecasts may be prompted by the return of 19 starters. Seven of those returnees (three on offense, four on defense) are 2020 seniors who remained in school due to the NCAA granting players an extra season of eligibility due to the COVID-19 interruptions.
One of those returners is cornerback Chase Lucas, who has six career interceptions. He feels Arizona State can play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1996 season when quarterback Jake Plummer guided the Sun Devils to Pasadena.
“I’m not looking at nothing else but the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl,” Lucas told the Arizona Republic. “But we have to take it week by week, day by day. That’s where our focus is.”
Arizona State features a talented quarterback in Jayden Daniels, who was intercepted once in 84 attempts last season. He passed for 701 yards and five touchdowns.
Rachaad White could be a breakout performer after averaging 10 yards per carry last season. He had a team-leading 420 yards and five touchdowns on the ground and caught eight passes for a team-best 151 yards and one score.
Edwards has compared White to Pro Football Hall of Famer Marcus Allen, the 1981 Heisman Trophy winner at Southern California.
“Rachaad has a lot of Marcus’ mannerisms,” Edwards recently told Arizona reporters. “His height, his length, how he runs … there’s a lot of little mannerisms there that I watch, and I go, ‘Man, that’s just like (Marcus).'”
One possible distraction is the NCAA investigation into alleged recruiting violations by the program. Three assistant coaches — Chris Hawkins (defensive backs), Prentice Gill (receivers) and Adam Breneman (tight ends) — have been placed on administrative leave.
Arizona State figures to have an easy time in the contest against Southern Utah, which has lost 11 straight games against FBS programs since beating South Alabama in 2013. The latest was Saturday’s 45-14 loss at San Jose State.
The Thunderbirds have dropped five games against Pac-12 foes during the stretch, losing by an average of 34.4 points.
Having minimal time to prepare is another hurdle for Southern Utah.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Thunderbirds coach Demario Warren said after the loss to San Jose State. “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. We’ve got to get right back to work and get a game plan in and try to get ready for another game on Thursday.”
Quarterback Justin Miller completed 15 of 29 passes for 117 yards against the Spartans. He also caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from receiver Judd Crockett on a trick play.
Defensively, cornerback Kobe Singleton recorded his first career interception when he cut in front of a receiver to pick off Nick Starkel’s pass and return it 18 yards for a score. However, the Thunderbirds were outgained 543-250.
Southern Utah didn’t play in the fall of 2020 as the Big Sky moved its season to spring. The Thunderbirds went 1-5.
–Field Level Media