Texas A&M, No. 15 Arizona St meet for 1st time in opener
It's a fact has the sophomore more than a little excited for Saturday's season-opener against the 15th-ranked Sun Devils in Houston.
''Special one for me,'' he said. ''A lot of people say A&M has a lot of rivals in the SEC. I didn't grow up in the South, I grew up in Arizona. So this is a rivalry game for me.''
It will be the first meeting between these schools and the only game between teams from the Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences this season. The Sun Devils are 0-6 against SEC teams.
Allen started the last five regular-season games as a freshman in 2014, but had to fight off talented freshman Kyler Murray in camp to keep the job this year. He was MVP of the Aggies' win over West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl, and finished the season with 1,322 yards passing with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Coach Kevin Sumlin said Allen has become more of a leader since the bowl game and has been impressed with the 19-year-old.
''He likes where he is right now from a growth standpoint,'' Sumlin said. ''Has been growing mentally but also physically. Up to 215 pounds now. All part of the process. He's come along just fine.''
Arizona State coach Todd Graham, who tried to recruit Allen, raved about his work so far.
''There are a lot of guys that have strong arms and he can make all the throws, but he's really accurate down the field and makes quick decisions,'' Graham said. ''And is a guy that is able to buy time in the pocket.''
While Texas A&M will start at teenager at quarterback, the Sun Devils have a senior signal-caller in Mike Bercovici. Bercovici threw for 1,445 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, most of which came in four games he started in place of injured starter Taylor Kelly before getting the job full-time this season.
''He's like having a coach on the field,'' Graham said. ''All the things that Taylor did, he's at that level and expanded on that level. I think Taylor's the best I've ever coached and I think that Mike's got a chance to be better.''
Some things to know about the opener between Arizona State and Texas A&M:
GO D.J.: Arizona State receiver D.J. Foster is the only active player in the Football Bowl Subdivision to enter this season with more than 1,500 yards rushing and 1,500 yards receiving in his career. He ran for 1,081 yards and nine touchdowns to lead the Sun Devils last season and was second on the team with 62 catches for 688 yards and three more scores. He had at least one reception in each game last season to extend his streak to 40 straight games, which leads the nation.
''This guy is electric, dynamic,'' Sumlin said.
OLD FOES: While their teams are meeting for the first time on Saturday, it isn't the first time Sumlin and Graham have faced one another. The pair met three times in Conference USA games from 2008-10 when Sumlin was at Houston and Graham coached Tulsa. Sumlin won two of those three meetings.
MY OH MYLES: Texas A&M's defense is led by Myles Garrett, a 6-foot-5, 262-pound sophomore, who had 14 tackles for losses last season and broke Jadeveon Clowney's freshman SEC sack record with 11 1/2.
''You won't play any better,'' Graham said. ''He's arguably the best pass rusher in their conference, and would have to be the best in the country that I've seen on film.''
HOME AWAY FROM HOME: This game will be played at NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans and about a 1 1/2 hour drive from College Station so the crowd is likely to be heavily concentrated with Aggies' faithful. But the Sun Devils could have a good chunk of fans in Houston since Texas is home to the third-most Arizona State alumni with 11,500. It will also be a homecoming for Graham, who was born in Mesquite, Texas, and got his start in coaching as an assistant at Mesquite's Poteet high in 1988. He also coached at Rice before taking the Tulsa job.