Arizona State kicks off what could be a make-or-break fifth season under coach Herm Edwards. The charismatic coach was thought to be on the hot seat last season before athletic director Ray Anderson said Edwards would return for the 2022 season. The Sun Devils have numerous new pieces to work into the fold after losing several key players to the transfer portal and 11 others who were drafted or signed with NFL teams as free agents. Opening with an FCS opponent would seem like an easy way to get the new players acclimated, but the Lumberjacks are no pushovers. Entering its fourth season under former ASU defensive coordinator Chris Ball, Northern Arizona has most of its offense back and beat Arizona in Tucson last season for its first victory over a Pac-12 school.
Northern Arizona’s defense against Arizona State’s run game. The Sun Devils have been one of the nation’s best rushing teams the past few years and have rushed for at least 100 yards in 18 straight games, the eighth-longest streak in the FBS. Arizona State has some key losses in the backfield, but added Wyoming transfer Xazavian Halladay, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards twice in the past three seasons. NAU relied on its defense while the offense struggled last season but lost several key players on that side of the ball.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Northern Arizona: RB Kevin Daniels. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound back was one of the lone bright spots in NAU’s offense last season, rushing for 1,146 yards and seven TDs. He also is a threat to catch passes out of the backfield, finishing 13th in the FCS with 128.7 all-purpose yards per game.
Arizona State: QB Emory Jones. The Sun Devils lost three-year starter Jayden Daniels to LSU, but the addition of Jones gives them another athletic, dual-threat QB in his place. Jones has plenty of experience after spending the previous four seasons at Florida. He threw for 2,734 yards and 19 TDs with 13 interceptions last year.
FACTS & FIGURES
Arizona State has won 22 straight home openers, dating to 1999. … Northern Arizona QB RJ Martinez threw for 1,714 yards, 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions in eight games last season to earn Big Sky freshman of the year honors. … The Sun Devils are 16-0 all-time against FCS opponents. … The Lumberjacks have a deep receiving group, led by Coleman Owen and Hendrix Johnson, who combined for 61 catches and 1,222 yards last season. … Arizona State has not allowed a play of 50 yards or more in 15 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the FBS.