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Head coach Herm Edwards of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts during the game against the UTSA Roadrunners at Sun Devil Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Head coach Herm Edwards of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts during the game against the UTSA Roadrunners at Sun Devil Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Two years into the Herm Edwards era, Arizona State’s football program appeared to be on the right track.

Back-to-back winning seasons and a talented roster heading into 2020 had put the Sun Devils among the favorites for the Pac-12 South title last year.

It’s been a crazy year for ASU, however, and while there is tremendous potential, there is also some uncertainty about the program moving forward.

Leading up to preseason camp, BuffZone.com will preview each of Colorado’s 2021 opponents and in this installment, we look at the Arizona State Sun Devils.

All teams were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but the Sun Devils were hit particularly hard. After opening the delayed season with a crushing, come-from-ahead 28-27 loss to Southern California in the final moments, ASU didn’t play for nearly a month.

Major COVID-19 issues within the program led to the Sun Devils canceling three consecutive games, including a trip to Boulder to face the Buffaloes. They rallied to win their last two and finish 2-2, but it was a disappointing campaign for many reasons.

This year, ASU has lofty expectations, but it was revealed last month that the program is under NCAA investigation for recruiting violations throughout the pandemic. That has put the status of Edwards and others within the program in doubt. For now, however, Edwards is still the coach, and he’s slated to be in Hollywood on Tuesday for Pac-12 media day.

Despite the challenges of the past year, ASU goes into this season projected as one of the top teams in the Pac-12 South – and this could be the best Sun Devils team in years.

In the spring, Edwards told The Athletic, “I think we are (ready to contend). But it’s not so much that I think that; I think the players think that.”

Players should think that way because ASU is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball.

Sophomore Jayden Daniels is one of the top quarterbacks in the Pac-12, accounting for 924 yards in total offense in only four games last year. In two seasons at ASU, he’s thrown for 3,644 yards and 22 touchdowns – with only three interceptions – while adding 578 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

At running back, ASU might have the best duo in the Pac-12, with respect to CU’s own Jarek Broussard and Alex Fontenot. The Sun Devils’ Rachaad White and Chip Trayanum combined for 710 yards and nine touchdowns last year.

Four starters are back from the offensive line, including All-Pac-12 center Dohnovan West and left tackle Kellen Diesch.

Perhaps the only real question mark on offense is at receiver, but the Sun Devils have good, young talent and added Bryan Thompson as a graduate transfer from Utah.

Defensively, eight starters return, including cornerback Chase Lucas and defensive linemen Jermayne Lole and Tyler Johnson, who are all among the best in the conference at their positions.

ASU hasn’t won a division title since 2013, but if the Sun Devils play to their potential this year and play through distractions, they should contend for the South title.

“Guys that have been here, they know that we’re good enough to compete with anybody we walk on the football field with,” Edwards told The Athletic in spring. “That doesn’t mean we’re always going to win. But we got a chance.”

Arizona State Sun Devils

Date with CU: Sept. 25, time TBA, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.

Head coach: Herm Edwards, 4th year (17-13)

Series: ASU leads 8-3

Sun Devils in 2020: 2-2, 2-2 Pac-12

Offensive players to watch (2020 statistics):

  • QB Jayden Daniels, So., 6-foot-3, 185 pounds (49-of-84, 701 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT; rush: 33 att., 223 yards, 4 TD)
  • LT Kellen Diesch, Sr., 6-7, 300 (Honorable mention All-Pac-12)
  • TE Curtis Hodges, Sr., 6-7, 245 (3 rec., 98 yards, 1 TD)
  • WR Bryan Thompson, Jr., 6-2, 207 (Transfer from Utah)
  • RB Chip Trayanum, Fr., 5-11, 230 (49 att., 290 yards, 4 TD; 1 rec., 5 yards)
  • C Dohnovan West, So., 6-3, 315 (First team All-Pac-12)
  • RB Rachaad White, Jr., 6-2, 195 (42 att., 420 yards, 5 TD; 8 rec., 151 yards, 1 TD)

Defensive players to watch:

  • S Evan Fields, Sr., 6-1, 195 (38 tackles, 3 forced fumbles)
  • DL Tyler Johnson, Jr., 6-4, 285 (16 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks)
  • DT Jermayne Lole, Jr., 6-1, 310 (24 tackles, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks)
  • CB Chase Lucas, Sr., 6-0, 180 (15 tackles, 5 pass breakups)
  • S DeAndre Pierce, Sr., 5-11, 185 (24 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT)
  • OLB Merlin Robertson, Sr., 6-3, 250 (24 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT)
  • LB Kyle Soelle, Jr., 6-4, 225 (26 tackles, 1 INT)

Notable: The CU-ASU matchup will be the Pac-12 opener for both teams. … The Sun Devils are 0-3 in conference openers under Edwards, including 2019 against CU. … In three non-conference games to start the season, ASU will have home games against Southern Utah and UNLV and a visit to BYU. … CU has won three of the last four meetings with the Sun Devils, including its first-ever victory in Tempe in 2019. … Last year, ASU led the Pac-12 in scoring (40.2 points per game) and scoring defense (allowing 23.2 points per game). … ASU also led the conference and finished seventh nationally in rushing, with 264.2 yards per game. … Thompson caught nine passes for 187 yards and 1 TD last year at Utah. He played 33 games (12 starts) for the Utes, catching 33 passes for 756 yards and 4 touchdowns. … Punter Michael Turk is a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection and averaged 47.2 yards per punt. … Of the 13 losses under Edwards, 10 have come by one score, including five by three or less.