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Reasons to Believe 2021 is 'The' Year for Arizona State Football

There's been no better chance in the past or present for the Sun Devils to have themselves a year.

Ideally, every year is the right year for a team to make a magical run and end its season with confetti falling from the rafters. 

For Arizona State fans, they've seen some tremendous teams roll through the program. With a handful of strong teams in the last decade, that 1996 Rose Bowl team and head coach Frank Kush's dominant run through the 1970s, the Sun Devils have undoubtedly seen success in Tempe. 

There's been buzz surrounding a few different seasons, yet the feeling around ASU heading into 2021 just feels . . . promising. 

That's such a strange way to describe a team currently being probed by the NCAA for possible recruiting infractions, right? Sunshine can't exist when there are clouds over the program. 

That's not how head coach Herm Edwards sees it.

"We're a focused football team. I think it has a lot to do with the players that decided to come back in the spring. That's kind of where our mindset is right now, as far as what I know, what I see and feel about the players," Edwards said at Pac-12 media day.

Edwards headlines a handful of reasons to believe 2021 is the year for Arizona State.


For better or for worse, the Sun Devils' locker room will look to use the negative attention currently fixated on the program and turn that into a source of motivation for the team. There's a certain "us against the world mentality" that brews very easily when not-so-great things are said about something you're a part of. 

Sure, the college kids will be fired up and ready to play. But who better to properly add fuel to that fire than Edwards, a coach who knows a thing or two about navigating the roads of diversity. 

Edwards already has cemented himself as nothing short of a superb coach in his respective sport, thanks to his ability to not only coach the game of football, but also coach the people who play the sport as well. 

Obviously the ongoing investigation isn't a good sign of things to come. However, that should only put more emphasis and intensity on focusing on the upcoming season given the uncertainty surrounding the future. 

One Last Ride?

You don't have to convince many Arizona State fans of how special quarterback Jayden Daniels is. Coming in as the third-highest ranked recruit the program has had in the modern recruiting era, Daniels has shown steady improvement in each season under center. 

Daniels is nothing short of a playmaker with his arm strength and mobility. He also takes incredible care of the ball (three interceptions on 422 attempts). The real reason for excitement as Daniels heads into his junior season? Doing the smaller things right, which is something offensive coordinator Zak Hill has been assisting with Daniels through the offseason. 

Should Daniels continue to take the next step and refine his pocket passing skills, the Sun Devils will field one of the best overall offenses in the conference. If and when Daniels finds his Superman cape, ASU's offense will find Zen-like balance. 

Which also leads us into our next reason to believe 2021 could be the year. 

Whenever, Wherever

There's a certain swagger to a football team when they're able to run the football, and be damn good at it. That's typically a lost case in the modern day of football, especially in a conference such as the Pac-12 that often features high-profile passing displays on a weekly basis. 

The Sun Devils led the Pac-12 in rushing offense last season, averaging just over 264 yards per game on the ground. Bad news for everybody in the conference: Both starting running backs (DeaMonte Trayanum and Rachaad White) return, along with four of five starters from the offensive line. 

Make no mistakes: Passing the ball is the analytical favorite to win ball games, and with a quarterback such as Daniels, Arizona State will do plenty of that. However, ASU's ability to run the ball at any point in the game and anywhere on the field should pay huge dividends.

In tough matchups with Utah, Washington and USC to name a few, Arizona State will need to protect any sort of late-game leads by pounding the rock, an ability few college football teams truly possess. The success of Arizona State's rushing attack also opens the door for ASU's passing offense. 

There's a certain swagger to being able to run the football whenever (and wherever) the occasion calls for it. The ability to effectively wear a defense down on the ground still remains vastly underrated heading into 2021, and the Sun Devils have the potential to turn that ability into a super power. 

Defense, Defense, Defense

The loss of defensive tackle Jermayne Lole will undoubtedly be felt, as the senior will be lost for an unknown amount of time due to a triceps injury. However, even without his presence, Arizona State's defense remains a strong point. 

Now is a good time to reiterate that 10 players on Arizona State's defense were nominated to the Senior Bowl's 2022 watch list. From the defensive line to the secondary, top-level talent exists at each position group. 

The Sun Devils allowed the fewest amount of points per game in the Pac-12 (23.2) last season while also tying Utah for the most takeaways in the conference (13) despite playing only four games. Despite the loss of Lole, ASU still boasts a strong front seven and an elite secondary, capable of slowing down the run while also shutting down the passing game. 

A good defense offers the ability to bail an offense out on occasion. A great defense, much like the one Arizona State's can become, can outright win games when called upon. 

Fulfilling Potential

Look, there's surely significant uncertainty on and off the field. It's fair to say there was pressure on Edwards and Co. to perform prior to the off-field issues, and those expectations are only maintained through the late stages of the preseason. 

Off the field, it appears Arizona State won't face any discipline this year. The NCAA is still conducting its investigation, and with two more assistant coaches placed on administrative leave, it appears the probing won't be over any time soon. 

While that's fine in the moment, that does leave a cloud over the program's future, especially with talk of potential lack of institutional control if the NCAA can prove higher-ups at Arizona State knew about the allegations. There's almost a certain urgency to accomplish something before some sort of ruling appears in Tempe. 

Yet, the main proprietor for those high expectations is a simple factor of the talent Arizona State has accumulated. 

This team, on paper, is arguably one of the best teams the Sun Devils have fielded in years. Every puzzle piece for a successful season is there: Strong coaching, strong offense, great defense. With talent comes expectations, and with many players set to leave Arizona State whether by graduation or professional aspirations, there's no telling when another well-rounded team like this will again return for the Sun Devils. 

Alas, here we are. The talent has never been more available, and it's time for the cream to rise to the top. 

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