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The Year of Jayden Daniels

ASU QB1 primed for a breakout year

It was New Years eve of 2019, and the Arizona State Sun Devils were about to take a 20-14 Sun Bowl victory over the Florida State Seminoles. Star players such as Brandon Aiyuk and Eno Benjamin were absent on the field in favor of focusing on the upcoming NFL Draft. It was an opportunity for the rest of the offense to prove they could get the job done, true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels included in that mix.

“He’s the best unkept secret in college football” said Gary Danielson on CBS Sports’ broadcast of the bowl game.

Daniels felt like a secret to the Arizona State community. The Sun Devils arrived late to the scene of Daniels’ recruitment, as Daniels was the top uncommitted quarterback in his class prior committing to ASU. Daniels had his choice of schools ranging from Alabama to USC, but ultimately chose Tempe as his destination for the next three to four years.

Despite being the number two ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 recruiting class (via 247Sports) and becoming the program’s first true freshman to start at quarterback in ASU’s opener against Kent State, it still felt like Daniels didn’t have the attention akin to former freshman phenoms such as Trevor Lawrence and Jameis Winston.

Although ASU ultimately finished with an 8-5 record in head coach Herm Edwards’ second season, the program garnered eyes of football fans across the country. The Sun Devils went on the road to upset No. 18 Michigan State and No. 15 Cal in a three week span, while falling at home to USC by a mere five points (with Daniels out due to injury) before hosting No. 6 Oregon in a pivotal match-up.

It was at that moment Daniels stepped on the scene of the college football landscape.

Daniels held a stat-line of 22/32 passes for 408 yards and a 3-0 TD/INT ratio in a thrilling 31-28 victory over the Ducks. Daniels put his entire skill-set on display for primetime television, dodging defenders to squeeze passes in tight windows and showing off his arm-strength with two unbelievable passes. Daniels’ first incompletion of the game came with under ten seconds left to play in the first half.

The clock hit zero, the stands poured onto Frank Kush Field and the party started. That party carried into the final two games for Arizona State, as the Sun Devils defeated Arizona for the third-straight season before capping 2019 as Sun Bowl champions.

This leads us to present day, as the 2020 season is scheduled to kickoff in just under two months. Due to COVID-19, uncertainty surrounds the world of sports and the ability to play without making things more worse than they already are (if that’s even possible). The current situation can be described as murky at best.

The only certainty about the upcoming season? Daniels is primed for a breakout season, one that will hopefully see ASU in serious contention for a conference championship.

Pac-12 Network’s Yogi Roth had high praise for Daniels and the rest of the ASU team:

"He’s got a chance to be one of the best, if not the best of all time at that institution based on everything around him, the tutorship and mentorship that he has and the program," Roth said of Daniels. "We need to talk about ASU no longer as this sleeping giant but as a legit contender in the Pac-12 conference for a Rose Bowl bid and I think that is a fair statement to make about this team this year, next year, maybe even the following year… So Jayden’s ceiling, he’s got a chance to be the best one that I’ve seen personally in the last 20 years and get in the conversation with the Jake Plummer’s of the world."

Daniels finished 2019 with a 60% completion rate, accounting for nearly 3,300 total yards and 17 touchdowns with a mere two interceptions. Daniels is expected to hit high marks in the next two years, yet that does not relieve him of potential faults. Many believe his frame (6’3”, 175 lbs) needs to be added to (muscle, preferably), while others believe more awareness is needed when it comes to taking unnecessary hits. However, that’s about the limit you’ll find on criticism of Daniels.

Daniels possesses the tools and necessary attributes for the quarterback position to make a serious leap into next season. Expectations are undoubtedly high for the sophomore gun-slinger, but such is life when you play like Daniels did as a true freshman. Coach Edwards shared that sentiment in an interview with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM:

“I told him when the season was over, ‘OK, it’s your offense. We’re gonna build it around you now,'” he told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo. “I want him to enjoy being a college football player, I really do. With that being said, I think we gotta build a team around him. And that is the mindset this year to be quite honest — to build an offense around the quarterback’s skill set.”

With another season under the guidance of Edwards and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Zak Hill, Daniels has the potential to make serious noise this season. Sun Devil faithful are hoping he’s loud enough to take ASU to heights once thought to be unreachable.

For now, however, Daniels simply needs to be himself on the field. It’s fair to say that formula has worked thus far.