It’s August, which means college football is only a month away! Arizona State opens the season at home against the University of Texas at San Antonio on September 1st. The rest of September consists of two other non-conference games, one with Michigan State and the other at San Diego State, followed by the team’s first two conference games of 2018 with Washington and Oregon State.
There’s been a lot of tension building surrounding this team and those first few non-conference games or even just the very first matchup to determine how Herm Edwards and the new coaching staff and new coaching style is going to pan out. I think people are expecting everything to be completely figured out by the time the clock starts on September 1st — and that, if it’s not by then, they are going to crash and burn.
But that’s not how teams work, especially teams that have undergone such fundamental changes. It’s going to take a little longer to really get a grasp of how this new team is going to run and to get an idea of what the rest of their season will shape out to be.
The first two games of the season are at home so that already plays to the Sun Devil’s advantage, as they were 5-2 in Tempe last year. Luckily, UTSA will be a good matchup to get the season started and evaluate where they still need some work. Besides working with less talent than a Power 5 team, the Roadrunners also lost a lot of the core of their offense, including their starting quarterback, so they’re also undergoing pretty dramatic changes but their defense should be just as solid.
Following this game, ASU’s young defense will be put to the test against Michigan State’s established offense. Then they will have to face another strong defense in SDSU. This kind of back-and-forth is going to test ASU’s stability on both sides of the ball and give them opportunities to reevaluate certain aspects of their style heading into conference play.
Then there’s Washington, who’s a completely different type of beast.
Exacerbating the fact that the Huskies are a general step above, they’ll no doubt be welcoming the Sun Devils to Seattle looking to avenge their shocking loss to ASU last season — a loss which all but ruined their case for the CFP. The keys to this matchup and what to watch for will be how the ASU defense has worked on their sustainability. The Pac-12 is full of strong offenses and ASU struggled a lot last year with staying consistent through the second half and lost many conference games because of it.
Bottom line: ASU’s season begins with teams that are strong in different areas and will test the inexperienced aspects of both the Sun Devils’ defense and offense. UTSA’s defense could reveal inconsistencies in ASU’s offense within the first quarter. Michigan State and Washington will do the same to their defense. But it’s going to take time to figure out how to improve and best equip for future matchups.
Each team is going to provide new challenges, highlighting strengths and weaknesses. If ASU is unable to figure out how to cater to their strengths and adapt to their weaknesses within the first month, 2018 is going to be a rocky season. The Pac-12 is definitely not the most forgiving when it comes to college football.