ASU football: the Jekyll & Hyde of the 2020 season

Arizona State football will either win the Pac-12 South division…or struggle to get more than six wins.  So, which Sun Devil team should you expect to show up for the 2020 season?

Guess that depends on who you listen to.

While the Sun Devils have been generally receiving encouraging reviews from the sports sites that evaluate the college programs, a more recent projection puts the ASU program among the less-promising teams in the Pac-12.  And another has them winning their division.

CBS Sports and College Football News envision a mediocre outcome for ASU in the coming season, with CBS predicting seven wins and CFN giving them eight.  Athlon predicted a runner-up finish in the South.

The Sun Devils finished 8-5 (4-5 Pac-12) last season and 7-6 (5-4) in 2018, the two years under new head coach, Herm Edwards.

A  couple of other sites take their projections to opposite ends of the spectrum.

Earlier in the summer, ESPN issued its annual Power Index projections and didn’t offer up much hope for ASU’s chances for a break-out season.  The folks at ESPN limited expectations for 2020 to just six wins and gave the Devils less than a 3 percent chance of winning their division.

But more recently, 247Sports came to ASU’s defense, giving the Sun Devils the love they couldn’t get from the other sites.  One of its prognosticators, Brandon Marcello, sees a Pac-12 South crown in the Devils’ immediate future.  He is basing his forecast, in large part, on the fact that ASU has arguably the best coaching staff in the conference —  from former NFL head coach Edwards to the new offensive coordinator, Zak Hill from Boise State, and NFL veterans Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce as co-defensive coordinators.

There are definitely reasons for optimism among the faithful in Tempe.

The Sun Devils will have a quarterback/receiver tandem that is as good, or better than, any in the Pac-12.  Sophomore QB Jayden Daniels threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and is currently being included in the pre-season Heisman Trophy discussion.  His primary target will likely be redshirt senior Frank Darby (in photo above), a true deep threat  who led the team receiving corps last year with eight touchdowns and was runner-up with 616 receiving yards.  “Big Play Frank” averaged 20 yards a catch last season, giving the Sun Devil offense some explosiveness.

And Daniels will be operating with the protection of an offensive line that includes three returners and probably a couple of experienced transfers mixed in.

On the other side of the ball, Lewis and Pierce will be working with a defense that features one of the better defensive fronts in the conference.  ASU has the talent to make it very uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks.

The biggest downside going into the season is the need to find a running back to replace Eno Benjamin, who left a year early to enter the NFL draft.  Benjamin, the school’s single-season rushing leader, was given the ball for more than 2/3 of the carries over the past two seasons, rushing for a combined 2,725 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Edwards may have to depend on one of the incoming freshmen to step into Benjamin’s over-sized cleats since there is little experience waiting in the wings.  Two running backs will return, A.J. Carter and Demetrious Flowers, but together they have just 34 carries and no touchdowns.

ASU could easily have been a 10-win team last season.  Only one of their five losses was by more than 10 points.

The bottom line: ASU could be one of the most intriguing stories of the 2020 season.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)