2020 Team Preview: Can Arizona State Win The Pac-12 South?
It is go time for Arizona State. The last few years, the program has tried to build itself to a place where it could make a real run at the Sun Devils’ first division championship since 2013. Now there is an expectation that coach Herm Edwards needs to elevate the program to the next level. Arizona State plays USC in its first game of the season. That could easily decide the Pac-12 South right there.
The Sun Devils have made a lot of changes. They have two new coordinators. They are modifying their offense with the hope it will maximize their point production. Former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is on Edwards’ staff and will have a role in shaping the defensive scheme after being a lower-tier assistant coach last year.
There are lots of new faces on the offense. Running back Eno Benjamin and receiver (and first-round draft pick) Brandon Aiyuk are both gone after being on the All-Pac-12 First Team in 2019. ASU has two freshman running backs, Daniyel Ngata and DeaMonte Trayanum. The Sun Devils have new offensive linemen Kellen Diesch and Henry Hattis, both transfers from other Power Five conference programs (Texas A&M and Stanford). The Devils are hoping these newly-matched pieces all fit together.
The Sun Devils Will Succeed If…
Their new offensive scheme under coordinator Zak Hill, combined with new skill players at running back and receiver, neatly complement the talents of returning starting quarterback Jayden Daniels. This is Daniels’ offense and Daniels’ team. Daniels has authored several fourth-quarter comeback victories in his ASU career. He is the most trusted player in the locker room and quite possibly the most talented player as well. Any best-case scenario for Arizona State this season involves one result more than others: Jayden Daniels will play his best football. ASU can’t win if Daniels is moderately good or less than spectacular. If Daniels makes his running backs and receivers better, and creates a galvanizing effect throughout the offense, ASU will be hard to stop. It could outscore USC in a season-opening shootout and ride the momentum from that win to a big season.
The Sun Devils Will Fail If…
Their defense isn’t up to the task. This defense doesn’t have to be great in order to succeed, but it does have to be better than average, and that’s a real concern. Arizona State was able to play well for one half last November against Oregon and future first-round draft pick Justin Herbert. Oregon made a furious second-half rally but fell just short. Arizona State’s defense hung on for dear life. Can ASU’s defense play strong halves or quarters in games this year? This group won’t be great for 60 minutes, but if it can have solid 15- or 30-minute segments in games, that could be enough with Daniels leading a potent offense. Will ASU be able to arrive at that standard of performance on defense? It’s an open question.
The Sun Devils have the offense to win the division, but probably not the defense. The program is getting closer to the top of the Pac-12, but this team has to prove it can go all the way, and skepticism still seems warranted at this point.
Prediction: 2nd in Pac-12 South