Pac-12 South Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

Entering year three under head coach Herm Edwards and armed with arguably the best quarterback in the Pac-12, is this the year the Sun Devils break through to the upper echelon of the conference?
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As part of our Pac-12 South Preview, we will be examining each Pac-12 team. We will break down their schedule, their offense and defense and what should be considered a successful or failure of a season.

Up next is the Arizona State Sun Devils — a team on the brink of finally breaking through into the upper echelon of the conference.

Dec 31, 2019; El Paso, Texas, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards is doused by Frosted Flakes by his players moments after defeating the Florida State Seminoles 20-14 in the Sun Bowl.

Dec 31, 2019; El Paso, Texas, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards is doused by Frosted Flakes by his players moments after defeating the Florida State Seminoles 20-14 in the Sun Bowl.

Underlying Theme
It's as simple as this, is this the year Arizona State finally breaks through? 

With head coach Herm Edwards entering his third season in the Pac-12, the Sun Devils have showed flashes of being great. But their overall lack of consistency, combined with their youth, has held the team back from achieving their goal of winning the Pac-12 south division title.

Edwards is 15-11 overall and 9-9 in Pac-12 play, but took a step back last year and finished third in the division and 4-5 in conference play.

This year, the Pac-12 media has pegged the Sun Devils as a darkhorse to win the division, and we have to agree. Edwards' system on both sides of the ball is fully in place, plus his first recruiting class is now entering their third year as well. 

If this is the year Arizona State takes that step forward and truly challenges Utah and USC in the division, it will take a monumental effort from quarterback Jayden Daniels, arguably the top QB in the conference.

Nov 23, 2019; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) throws a pass in the second half against the Oregon Ducks at Sun Devil Stadium.

Nov 23, 2019; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) throws a pass in the second half against the Oregon Ducks at Sun Devil Stadium.

Overview
2019 Record: 8-5 overall, 4-5 Pac-12
Started 5-1 (2-0 Pac-12) with a victory over No. 15 Cal, but then lost four in a row starting with a 21-3 defeat to No. 13 Utah. The Sun Devils rebounded to ruin Oregon's CFP chances with a 31-28 upset in the desert, and finished the year with a 20-14 victory over Florida State in the Sun Bowl.

Schedule = Opportunistic / SI Prediction in Bold
*Saturday, Nov. 7 — @ No. 21 USC (W)
*Saturday, Nov. 14 — vs. Cal (W)
*Saturday, Nov. 21 — @ Colorado (W)
*Saturday, Nov. 28 — vs. Utah (L)
*Saturday, Dec. 5 — vs. UCLA (W)
*Friday, Dec. 11 — @ Arizona (W)

The Sun Devils have huge south division game right out of the gate, taking on the Trojans in So Cal. If they can get through that, they have a huge trap game the following against Cal, but it comes at home so that's a plus. Then they get Utah at home as well, a potentially easy schedule to navigate if they can get out of the gates 2-0.

Offense = Potentially Explosive 
There are without a doubt some holes to fill with the recent departures of wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and running back Eno Benjamin, two staples in the offense last year. 

However, Arizona State does return the uber-talented Daniels, who broke out as a freshman with 17 touchdowns to two interceptions and 2,943 passing yards. He will be throwing the ball to Frank Darby, the next future NFL receiver from the Sun Devils. Darby finished last season with 31 catches for 616 yards and eight touchdowns. 

Nov 23, 2019; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Frank Darby (84) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass against the Oregon Ducks in the fourth quarter at Sun Devil Stadium.

Nov 23, 2019; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Frank Darby (84) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass against the Oregon Ducks in the fourth quarter at Sun Devil Stadium.

The Sun Devils do have a bunch of talented incoming freshmen, led by high four-star wide receivers Johnny Wilson, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound specimen and Elijhah Badger, a freakish athlete with great ball skills. At running back, Deamonte Trayanum is expected to make a big difference on offense as a power runner who will serve as a compliment to Daniels and the rest of the bunch.

With no lack of skill players, the Sun Devils could be in trouble if Daniels takes a step back in production as more of the offense is put onto his shoulders. Also, his offensive line needs to hold up as that's been an issue in the past.

Defense = Good luck throwing the ball
Entering the season, Oregon was supposed to have the Pac-12's (and possibly the nation's) top secondary. But with three starters opting out due to the pandemic, make way for the Sun Devils who now take over as the Pac-12's top secondary.

They return starters in cornerbacks Jack Jones and Chase Lucas and safety Aashari Crosswell. Jones finished the season with 13 passes defended and three interceptions, while Crosswell added 10 passes defended, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. Lucas was the main tackler of the bunch with 53 on the season.

Arizona State Sun Devils defensive back Jack Jones (21) tackles Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Tayvian Cunningham (11) in the first half of the 93rd Duel in the Desert on Nov. 30, 2019 in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona Wildcats Vs Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona State Sun Devils defensive back Jack Jones (21) tackles Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Tayvian Cunningham (11) in the first half of the 93rd Duel in the Desert on Nov. 30, 2019 in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona Wildcats Vs Arizona State Sun Devils.

The Sun Devils also return leading tackler Darrien Butler, who finished last season with 88 tackles. Anchoring the defensive line is Jermayne Lole, who added 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

Season Outlook
It's real simple, a successful season for the Sun Devils is either winning the Pac-12 south division title or finishing at 5-1 (prior to the crossover weekend) — taking down USC and/or Utah. Including the bowl game, a 7-1 or 6-2 record (depending on how they get there), would be a successful season.

A failure of a season shows up right away as the high profile freshmen fail to make a difference, which in return gives Daniels a setback type of season. Going 3-3, especially 0-2 out of the gates, will turn up the heat on Edwards and some will wonder when he will produce despite the high profile recruiting.

Arizona State defensive lineman Jermayne Lole forces a fumble by Utah quarterback Jason Shelley in the second half on Nov. 3 at Sun Devil Stadium. Utah Vs Arizona State 2018

Arizona State defensive lineman Jermayne Lole forces a fumble by Utah quarterback Jason Shelley in the second half on Nov. 3 at Sun Devil Stadium. Utah Vs Arizona State 2018

Final Prediction
Record: 5-1
*The Sun Devils come out of the gates hot against USC and get the defining victory with the nation watching. They also score a nice victory over the upstart Golden Bears before falling at home to an improving Utah squad finding its stride.

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