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Arizona State: Five Things to Watch Against Southern Utah

Aside from the scoreboard, there will be plenty of things to watch for in Arizona State's season opener.

Expectations are high for the Arizona State Sun Devils, and for good reason. 

Head coach Herm Edwards heads into his fourth season with what many consider to be the strongest roster to roll through Tempe in years. Despite the NCAA still conducting investigations over the program's alleged recruiting violations, Edwards has maintained he and his players are lasered-focus on the upcoming task at hand. 

That task? Winning a Pac-12 title, an expectation for the majority of ASU's fan base heading into 2021. With teams such as Oregon, USC, Washington and even Utah believing this could be their year, the Sun Devils will certainly have their work cut out for them. 

That work could easily be handled, and that's what makes the prospect of the year to come for Arizona State so exciting. The veteran leadership and experience is there. The talent across each position group on the depth chart is there. Two of the most important factors in playing winning football (strong running game and stout defensive play) are also there. 

Make no mistake, the Sun Devils are highly expected to emerge victorious from their Week-1 date with Southern Utah. However, ASU will take this first week of football to work out any kinks and tweak whatever is necessary before moving forward to a Week -2 road trip to BYU. 

So, what should you be watching for on Thursday night? 

What to Watch for: Southern Utah at Arizona State

Jayden Daniels' pocket passing: Look, we all know the dynamic player Daniels is at the quarterback position. His arm strength and mobility make it very difficult for defenses to game-plan for Arizona State. What could put Daniels over the top, both as a college quarterback and NFL Draft prospect, is refining his skills as a "traditional" pocket passer. If Daniels displays improvement in his pocket presence and consistency throwing the ball on short/intermediate routes, Pac-12 defenses will be in deep trouble. 

How ASU handles Jermayne Lole's absence: Regardless of opponent, the loss of Lole in ASU's defensive interior is huge. The Sun Devils believe they have capable young players such as D.J. Davidson and Shannon Forman who could combine their efforts in the 4-3 defense to help fill Lole's absence. 

The kicking competition: Even with punter Michael Turk departing the program, the real competition for the starting kicker at ASU was even spotted on the team's first depth chart of the season, with Logan Tyler or Eddie Czaplicki being listed as the starter. A minor competition? Sure, until you need to kick a field goal to win the game down the road. Arizona State hopes to put themselves in scoring position for much of the game, potentially giving each man their fair shot on the field. 

Which receiver will step up? The Sun Devils stroll into the season with no true No. 1 receiver for the first time in years. Arizona State continues to search for their next N'Keal Harry, Brandon Aiyuk or Frank Darby, and a handful of talented pass-catchers believe they can fill those shoes. Expect a lot of receivers to get playing time Thursday night although Andre Johnson, Johnny Wilson and Ricky Pearsell may see the most action early. 

Freshman Debuts: There's no question Arizona State is loaded with seasoned talent at each position, yet the program also boasts a handful of exciting freshmen who could see playing time late in the game. Linebacker Eric Gentry has turned heads all throughout the offseason, while offensive linemen Isaia Glass and Ezra Dotson-Oyetade have impressive resume's heading into their first college game. A young duo of freshmen including defensive backs Tommi Hill and Isaiah Johnson also could potentially see playing time in a deep secondary. 

Donnie Druin is a Deputy Editor with AllSunDevils. Follow Donnie on Twitter @DonnieDruin, and AllSunDevils @AllSunDevils. Like and follow AllSunDevils on Facebook, and for more ASU news visit