A year ago, Arizona State fans looked at the Sun Devils' No. 8
preseason ranking, saw that the Fiesta Bowl was the site for the
national title game and experienced one of those desert-induced
illusions: Arizona State playing for the national title at home.
Reality came in the form of a 5-6 record, a slew of injuries and
even a team-bus driver who got lost going to Salt Lake City from
Provo, Utah. "There's only one road," coach Bruce Snyder says.
"How does that happen?"
The Sun Devils had few answers last season, and in their quest
to return to national prominence they are relying on senior
running back J.R. Redmond and junior quarterback Ryan Kealy.
Redmond, who averaged 155.8 all-purpose yards last season as a
runner and kick returner, needs to stay away from the toe and
ankle injuries that slowed him the last five games of the season
and ended his Heisman Trophy campaign. Kealy overcame right knee
surgery and a midseason benching to finish with 1,100 yards and
11 touchdowns in his last four games and has made himself a
leader, something last year's team sorely lacked. His
take-charge attitude has been noted even by new Arizona State
basketball coach Rob Evans, who, while walking by the weight
room one day, saw Kealy singling out a teammate for not running
hard. "His river is flowing full," Snyder says. "I look in his
eyes, and he is totally committed. It's his team. His
personality is all over it."
The major problem for the defense last year was injuries--too
many inexperienced players saw action. "We played guys last year
who we thought would never play at Arizona State," says senior
cornerback Courtney Jackson. "And they played a lot." The team
has replenished its secondary with four junior college
transfers, who should allow the Sun Devils to play more five-
and six-defensive-back coverages against pass-happy Pac-10 foes.
Then there are the intangibles. "We need to play with all those
things you want to have in a relationship with a woman," Jackson
says, "intensity, passion, emotion and love."
Add fearlessness. The Sun Devils play seven bowl teams,
including their regular season finale, Arizona, which was 12-1
in '98 and is entertaining thoughts of being No. 1 this year.
1998 record: 5-6 (4-4, tied for 5th in Pac-10)
Final ranking: unranked
1998 Averages Scoring Rushing Passing Total
Yards Yards Yards
OFFENSE 30.3 152.8 259.0 411.8
DEFENSE 30.7 148.7 257.8 406.5
Schedule strength: 10th of 114
Sept. 6 vs. Texas Tech
What will it be for the Sun Devils--last year's disappointment
or the triumph of '97, when they went 9-3? This Monday-nighter
could set the tone for the season.
Nov. 27 vs. Arizona
The Sun Devils would love to kill their rival's national title
hopes, but the Wildcats have won five of the last six.
The Bottom Line
With a healthy Redmond and an improved defense, the Sun Devils
should earn their third bowl berth in four seasons.