In-state rivals Northern Arizona and Arizona State will kick off the 2012 college football season on Thursday night in Tempe.
Arizona leads the all-time head-to-head series 20-14-4, and Thursday night marks the 39th meeting of the two programs, who have met just four times since 1950.
The Lumberjacks have come close to beating the Sun Devils in the past, but still have not edged their FBS rivals since way back in 1938.
Here is everything you need to know for Thursday night's opener in Tempe.
Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
When: Thursday, August 30 at 7:30 p.m. PT
Watch: Pac-12 Network
Listen: 105.1 FM (Flagstaff), 860 AM (Tempe)
Live Streaming: ESPN GamePlan
Betting Line: TBA
The key storyline on Thursday night will be whether this one-sided in-state rivalry will ever be close again. Arizona State has easily defeated Northern Arizona four times since 2003, and won 41-20 the last time the two teams met in 2010.
The two universities are separated by just 150 miles, making this a rivalry with great potential. Unfortunately, Northern Arizona lacks the FBS-level talent to compete with Arizona State consistently.
Who May Not Play for Northern Arizona
*According to USA Today
No significant injuries to report.
Who May Not Play for Arizona State
*According to USA Today
DT Corey Adams (Back), questionable for Thursday
Thursday night's matchup has very few implications in terms of the BCS or Top 25 rankings. The Sun Devils enter 2012 unranked and unlikely to contend with the likes of Southern California, Utah and UCLA in the Pac-12 South.
Meanwhile, the Lumberjacks will be eyeing the FCS playoffs this fall. A loss in Tempe, no matter how brutal will impact their chances in the Big Sky Conference this year. Similarly to Arizona State, Northern Arizona will have to get it done against their conference foes in 2012.
What They're Saying
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has made it known that he will play two quarterbacks in the Sun Devils' season opener on Thursday night, per The Arizona Republic's Doug Haller:
"Taylor will be the every-down guy ... but obviously as he progresses, Eubank's (presence) will continue to grow," he said. "We'll have Taylor do the things he does well and Mike do the things he does well. It's using two quarterbacks, but I do think Taylor will get the majority of the reps. ... What I'm hoping we can play is 80-plus (plays), and I would see Taylor playing about 50 and Mike playing about 30."
Kelly is a sophomore and Eubank a redshirt freshman. But both are legitimate running threats as well, which will add another dimension to ASU's offense on Thursday night.
Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers discussed the process of bringing in the Lumberjacks' star player, running back Zach Bauman, and what makes him so special per The Arizona Republic's Tyler Killian:
"It was easy to see that he was a guy we wanted on our team," Souers said. "We saw that he was an unbelievable talent, not just as a ball carrier but in the kind of character he has off the field. And the more we learned about him, the more we thought he would be a great fit for the program. So we recruited the heck out of him."
According to Killian, "Bauman has his sights set on even bigger things: a 2,000-yard season, and a deep playoff run for his team."
He'll begin his journey on Thursday night against the heavily favored Sun Devils on the road.
Northern Arizona Player to Watch
Junior running back Zach Bauman will be called upon early and often to lead Northern Arizona into hostile territory on Thursday night.
Bauman rushed for 1,435 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore last season. He also caught 29 passes for 352 yards in 2011.
One of the best rushers in FCS, Bauman has amassed 100 yards rushing in his last five outings, and averaged more than 130 rushing yards per game last season.
Arizona State Player to Watch
Senior running back Cameron Marshall will likely be the focal point of the Sun Devils' offensive attack in 2012 now that quarterback Brock Osweiler is gone to the NFL.
Marshall has been Arizona State's leading rusher for the past two seasons and carried the ball 230 times in 2011 for 1,050 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also caught 24 passes last season for 188 additional yards.
Although ASU relied heavily on its 10th-ranked passing game to put up points last season under Dennis Erickson, the Sun Devils will likely depend on Cameron Marshall and freshman back D.J. Foster to move the ball in 2012.
The key matchup in Thursday night's in-state clash will be a simple one; the Arizona State offense vs. the Northern Arizona defense.
The Lumberjacks won't beat the Sun Devils if they can't at least slow them on offense. Northern Arizona allowed more than 26 points per game last season, and gave up 41 points to Arizona State the last time the two teams squared off in 2010.
In addition to boasting a poor scoring defense, the Lumberjacks only forced 12 turnovers all season last year. If they are going to beat the Sun Devils for the first time in 74 years on Thursday night, they will need a superb defensive effort.
On the Hotseat
First-year Arizona State head coach Todd Graham will be on the hot seat to make sure that the Sun Devils don't lose to an FCS in-state rival on Thursday night in his first game at the helm.
Graham comes over from Pittsburgh, and is a defensive-minded coach with an attacking mentality. Graham's Panthers ranked third in the nation last season in sacks per game, recording 3.3 per game.
Meanwhile, ASU has not lost a season opener since 2002 at Nebraska, so it's safe to say the fans at Sun Devil Stadium on Thursday night are expecting a fast start to 2012.
Arizona State and Northern Arizona have battled four times since 2003, with the Sun Devils taking each matchup. Unfortunately that trend will continue on Thursday night in Tempe. The talent disparity from the FBS to FCS level is considerable, and Arizona State will have the edge on player skill alone.
Arizona State 38, Northern Arizona 17
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