Down in the desert, the Arizona State Sun Devils have the early signs of a hot team in 2014.
An experienced quarterback coupled with proven receivers and a reliable running game is a combination difficult enough to stop. Combine that with a kicker who rarely misses, and add in a standout defensive back like redshirt senior Damarious Randall to a defense that had the most interceptions in the Pac-12 in 2013, and you are looking at a lethal opponent poised to make a playoff run.
8/28 vs. Weber State: WIN
Since 2009, the Sun Devils have won their season opener by at least 30 points. This figures to be another easy game to start off the year as the Weber State Wildcats have won only two games in each of the last two seasons.
9/6 at New Mexico: WIN
This game will be much closer than the first game of the season, but the matchup favors the Sun Devils. New Mexico is a team that scores more on the ground than through the air, and Arizona State was fourth in the Pac-12 last season when it came to stopping the run.
9/13 at Colorado: WIN
The Buffaloes don’t have much to show in terms of defense. The Sun Devils’ offense, led by mobile quarterback Taylor Kelly, will pass and throw all over a Colorado team that was 11th in the Pac-12 last season in total defense.
9/25 vs. UCLA: WIN
When these two teams met last year, both were ranked. Both had dual-threat quarterbacks. Both had top-of-the-line running games. Ultimately, the Sun Devils came out on top, 38-33. This season, Kelly and UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley will battle again. The running games will be strong; however, the Sun Devils’ rushing defense that was in the upper third of the Pac-12 in 2013 will be enough to contain all three returning rushers for UCLA.
10/4 at USC: LOSS
This away game will likely snap the Sun Devils’ four-game winning streak to begin the season. A big win last season over the Trojans was aided by a careless performance from quarterback Cody Kessler, who threw two interceptions in the game. Tre Madden and Justin Davis had strong outings against Arizona State in 2013, and with both returning to help Kessler, this should be less of a lopsided game and more of a nail-biter.
10/18 vs. Stanford: WIN
It was not pretty when these two teams got together last season. The two met twice and both times, Stanford dominated the Sun Devils. However, that was in large part due to running back Tyler Gaffney, who ran for a total of five touchdowns last year against Arizona State. Gaffney is in the NFL now, which means the Sun Devils’ offense has more room to work with when battling against Stanford this time.
10/25 at Washington: LOSS
Even though the Huskies are transitioning to an offense that does not include quarterback Keith Price, the Sun Devils lost three key players who can pressure whoever the new Washington quarterback is. Davon Coleman, Carl Bradford and Chris Young combined for 24.5 total sacks in 2013, which means the pressure they brought will be sorely missed.
11/1 vs. Utah: LOSS
Marion Grice ran for over 100 yards against Utah last season, but that won’t necessarily happen again for running back D.J. Foster. Utah was stout against the run in 2013, finishing third in the conference. Kelly also did not have his best game against Utah, so he might not be enough to overcome the Utes in this one. If it is close late in the game, ASU kicker Zane Gonzalez is accurate enough to make up the difference with his leg, but it took a strong comeback last season for the Sun Devils to win, so it likely won’t be as close this season for a game-winning kick to occur.
11/8 vs. Notre Dame: WIN
Tommy Rees was successful in the narrow win against the Sun Devils last season, throwing three touchdown passes to help Notre Dame to win by three points. But he's gone, and the Fighting Irish are also without leading receiver T.J. Jones, as he has departed to the NFL. Notre Dame did recently reinstate wide receiver DaVaris Daniels from a suspension, which helps it slightly in the offensive category, but it won’t be enough to beat Arizona State’s high-powered offense at home.
11/15 at Oregon State: LOSS
Leading wide receiver Brandin Cooks might be out of the picture, but the Beavers will be at home for this one, and they still have quarterback Sean Mannion at the helm of their offense. He will have most of his other favorite weapons to torch Arizona State this season, including Storm Woods, Richard Mullaney, Caleb Smith and Connor Hamlett. This is one offense that the Sun Devils won’t be able to handle.
11/22 vs. Washington State: WIN
The fact that Arizona State’s ball-hawking abilities were the best in the conference last season bodes ill for Cougars’ quarterback Connor Halliday, who led the nation in interceptions in 2013. Turnovers give Arizona State extra chances to score, and they will capitalize.
11/28 at Arizona: WIN
This one wasn’t pretty last year as the Sun Devils scored in every quarter and rode the back of Foster to dominate their in-state rivals. Foster returns this season, while the Arizona Wildcats are without leading rusher Ka’Deem Carey and dual-threat quarterback B.J. Denker. Expect the Sun Devils’ season to end with a blowout win against the Wildcats.
2014 Arizona State Projected Record: 8-4 (5-4)