RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Arizona State Sun Devils
Date with CU: Oct. 6, time TBA, at Folsom Field in Boulder
Head coach: Herm Edwards, 1st year
Series: ASU leads 8-1
Sun Devils in 2017: 7-6, 6-3 Pac-12; lost to North Carolina State, 52-31, in Sun Bowl
Returning starters: 12 — 8 on offense, 4 on defense
Offensive players to watch: RT Quinn Bailey, Sr. (22 starts in the last two years); RB Eno Benjamin, So. (23 carries, 142 yards, 1 TD); C Cohl Cabral, Jr. (started last year at left tackle); WR N’Keal Harry, Jr. (82 catches, 1,142 yards, 8 TD); LT Casey Tucker, Sr. (grad transfer from Stanford); QB Manny Wilkins, Sr. (260-of-410, 3,270 yards, 20 TD, 8 INT; rushing: 138 att., 282 yards, 7 TD); WR Kyle Williams, Jr. (66 catches, 763 yards, 7 TD).
Defensive players to watch: OLB Koron Crump, Sr. (13 tackles, 4 sacks in 3 games); DL Shannon Forman, So. (5 tackles as backup); S Jalen Harvey, Sr. (converted from WR; 33 catches, 558 yards, 1 TD); CB Chase Lucas, So. (59 tackles, 8 PBU, 2 INT); CB Kobe Williams, Jr. (37 tackles, 5 PBU, 1 INT); OLB Jay Jay Wilson, Sr. (46 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks); DL Renell Wren, Sr. (21 tackles, 3 TFL).
Notable: Wilkins has made 23 starts in his career and has thrown for 5,599 yards, 32 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 583 yards and 12 touchdowns. … Benjamin had his best game (five carries, 52 yards, 1 TD) against Colorado last year. … The Sun Devils return their kicker (Brandon Ruiz) and punter (Michael Sleep-Dalton). Ruiz was 19-for-27 on field goals last year, while Sleep-Dalton averaged 39.9 yards per punt. … Three starters are back on the offensive line, but ASU allowed 41 sacks last year. … Tucker started at right tackle at Stanford in 2015 and made eight starts at tackle (six right, two left) in 2016. … Harvey was third on the team in receiving last season, but was moved to safety in the spring to fill a need there. … Several publications have listed the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Harry as an all-America candidate.
There are a lot of college football programs — Colorado included — that would gladly trade for the success that Arizona State has enjoyed in recent years.
In six years under head coach Todd Graham, the Sun Devils went 46-32, with five bowl appearances.
Arizona State wasn’t satisfied, however, with what athletic director Ray Anderson called “mediocre results,” and because of that, the Sun Devils go into next season as one of the most intriguing teams in the country.
This month, BuffZone.com is previewing each of Colorado’s opponents, with this installment focusing on Arizona State, which will be led by new coach Herm Edwards when it visits Boulder on Oct. 6.
Of all the coaching changes in college football this offseason, the hiring of Edwards turned the most heads and attracted the most criticism.
The 64-year-old Edwards comes to Tempe with eight years of head coaching experience, but that all came in the NFL, and his last coaching job was 10 years ago. He was 54-74 with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, including 6-26 in his last two seasons.
Edwards, a former NFL player who had worked as an ESPN analyst since 2009, hasn’t coached in college since mentoring defensive backs at San Jose State from 1987-89.
Anderson’s decision to hire Edwards was shocking, to say the least, and there are plenty of skeptics. No doubt, ASU will go into this season looking to prove everyone wrong.
“Competitive consistency is required to elevate this football program to the place we want to be,” Anderson said when introducing Edwards as head coach last winter. “Competitive consistency in the performance and outcome on game day, frankly, have not met our expectations.
“ASU football is nobody’s rebuild. This is not a start-up. This is not a start-over. We need to take the next step in competitive consistency and I believe Herman Edwards can take us there.”
The question is whether the players will believe in Edwards, and at least publicly, they appear to be on board. Perhaps most importantly, senior quarterback Manny Wilkins, has backed his new head coach.
“It’s been cool to see the transition to how things have been ran,” Wilkins told the Pac-12 Network after ASU’s spring game. “I think we laid the right foundation as a football team (in spring) and going into the summer you just start putting the pieces to the house up. When we get into season, I think we’ll be ready to roll.”
If Wilkins and his teammates can bond through the transition, ASU could be an interesting team to watch this season.
Wilkins enters his third year as the starter and has one of the country’s best receivers on his side with junior N’Keal Harry. There’s also a lot of experience on the line and talented, but young, running back Eno Benjamin on offense.
Defensively, the Sun Devils were among the worst teams in the country last year, but new defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales had success at San Diego State. There’s good talent for Gonzales to work with, too, especially in the front seven.
There’s no easing into the Edwards era, with a nonconference date against Michigan State in week No. 2, followed by back-to-back road trips to San Diego State and Washington.
At least in Year 1, matching Graham’s success might be difficult, but Edwards is embracing the challenge.
“I like the atmosphere, there’s no doubt,” he told reporters after the ASU spring game. “I missed it. I missed being around the players, I missed coaching. This is what I’ve always done my whole life: played football or coached football. I’m really thankful for the opportunity to be the head coach here.”