The expectations are high in Tempe. The Sun Devils are expected to have a very good season this year. Some are even saying good enough for double-digit wins.
The talent is there. ASU is returning 19 starters from last season, a year where several games were lost by shooting themselves in the foot. The theme for most of the losses were penalties.
Aside from Cal, the Sun Devils were close to winning all of their games, losing four of them by less than five points. The big question is whether or not Dennis Erickson can consistently put a disciplined team on the field.
Brock Osweiller will start the season behind center and is expected by many to lead the offense to a great season. On the other side of the ball, Vontaze Burfict will lead a very aggressive, stingy defense.
This team is already becoming a popular pick to win the new PAC-12 South. Although newcomer Utah may have something to say about that.
Another important factor, maybe the most important, is the schedule. Will the 2011 schedule provide Arizona State the opportunity to have a great season? Let's take a look.
Sept. 11 vs. UC Davis
The new team in the Big Sky Conference serves as the warm-up game for the Sun Devils' 2011 campaign. Finishing 6-5 in 2010, the Aggies played against two FBS teams in 2010, going 1-1. Cal destroyed UC Davis 52-3 on Sept. 4 and UC Davis narrowly beat San Jose State 14-13 on Oct. 9.
UC Davis should serve as a launching point for Arizona State's season. This game should not be an issue for the home team as the Devils will be looking to get into a groove before facing stiffer competition.
Result: Win (1-0)
Sept. 9 vs. Missouri
The Sun Devils face much stiffer competition than the previous week when the Missouri Tigers come to town. This is the first of two meetings between the universities, with ASU visiting Columbus in 2012.
Although this will not be a blowout, the Sun Devils should win this handily. Missouri has a big hole to fill with Gabbert gone. The Tigers' run defense is another big concern. Poor run defense vs. ASU's playmakers in the backfield equal nice results for the Sun Devils.
Result: Win (2-0)
Sept. 17 at Illinois
ASU goes on the road for the first time in 2011 to take on the Fighting Illini. With Ron Zook on the hot seat, Illinois is looking to get off to a good start behind their mobile quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase.
With a less than stellar receiving corps and a starting running back that was no better than a solid backup last season, the Fighting Illini will have to depend heavily on Scheelhaase. This figures well for the Sun Devil defense.
Result: Win (3-0)
Sept. 24 vs. USC
ASU will be looking to avenge a 34-33 loss last season to the Trojans.
Matt Barkley, in his third season, is set to have a strong season. However, there are worries about the offensive line. If the star QB has no protection, the Sun Devils will ensure he spends a lot of time on his back.
Another issue USC will have to overcome is their defensive play. Monte Kiffin's first year as defensive coordinator was rough. The defense was especially poor against the pass. It will be interesting to see how if they improve this year. There have been no signs so far that show any kind of improvement.
Result: Win (4-0)
Oct. 1 vs. Oregon State
ASU plays their game against the Beavers in Tempe. Oregon State is not expected to make much noise in 2011 with the loss of some of last year's biggest playmakers. This game should be no exception.
While the Sun Devils should win this one, it has the potential to be a "let-down" game. If they beat the Trojans the week before, the team may be looking past the Beavers to their big matchup with Utah. Hopefully, Erickson can finally find a way to instill discipline and keep his team focused. I believe he will.
Result: Win (5-0)
Oct. 8 at Utah
This game will most likely decide who will win the the PAC-12 South. Utah is the new kid on the block in its first season in a BCS conference. They will be looking to prove they belong.
To help prove it, Utah is instilling a new offense under their new coordinator, Norm Chow. Yes, that Norm Chow. Chow has a proven record of potent college offenses. With the talent on the Utes' roster, this time around should be no different.
Arizona State will have their hands full in this game. The defense should keep it close, but Utah has plenty of weapons, namely in its receiving corps. If the Sun Devils hope to win, they will need to go after Utah's unproven defensive backs.
Result: Close, but not enough. Loss. (5-1)
Oct. 15 at Oregon
The Sun Devils travel to Oregon to take on the defending PAC-10 champs. The Ducks are becoming the new USC. This team is stacked with talent, particularly on offense. Their recruiting is only getting better under Chip Kelly. Expect this team to light up the scoreboards again this year en route to another conference championship.
Their one weakness is a historically typical one for most PAC-10 teams: defense. Three starting defensive linemen are gone from last season's average defense. If there is a chink in the Ducks' armor, this is it. We may learn a lot about this team when they open up the season against LSU.
The Sun Devils' defense will be great this year, but I'm not sure if it will be enough against this high-octane offense. ASU will need a few breaks to walk away from Eugene with a "W." At this point, I don't expect that to happen.
Result: Loss (5-2)
Oct. 29 vs. Colorado
The other new kid on the block comes to Tempe for the Sun Devils' homecoming game. There has been a lot of change in the offseason for the Buffaloes' program, starting with their new coach, Jon Embree.
Embree's task is a tall one: Change the recent losing tradition into a winning one. It won't be easy with the lack of talent on the roster. It may be a couple years before Embree can turn this thing around with quality recruiting.
There is a good reason Colorado has been scheduled for homecoming. This will be a nice comeback game for the Sun Devils after two tough matchups against Utah and Oregon.
Result: Win (6-2)
Nov. 5 at UCLA
The Sun Devils go back on the road to face a Rick Neuheisel team that seems to be going backwards since he took the reigns. This is another coach that should be on the hot seat this season. Aside from top recruit QB Brett Huntley, the Bruins don't really have much to be optimistic about.
ASU's firepower will make this one lop-sided.
Result: Win (7-2)
Nov. 12 at Washington State
Another program going in the wrong direction. Another coach that should be worrying about his job. Paul Wulf has led the Cougars to a 5-32 record the past three seasons. That's an average of 1.6 wins per year. WSU will be lucky to top that in 2011.
ASU put a hurt on the Cougars last season, defeating them, 42-0. The Sun Devils should be a much better team this season. Washington State will not be. Expect another laugher.
Result: Win (8-2)
Nov. 19 vs. Arizona
The Sun Devils host their cross-state rivals for possession of the Territorial Cup. Never a dull meeting, the Sun Devils won last year's matchup in a nail-biting 30-29 double-overtime victory, which was decided on a blocked PAT. The Wildcats will be prepared to avenge the loss that capped off an end-of-season meltdown.
Wildcats QB Nick Foles is set to have another outstanding season. His issue will be the offensive line. Arizona has lost all five of their starting O-linemen. It will be interesting to see how the holes are filled...literally.
Expect an all-out dogfight. In the end, I expect ASU to pull away.
Result: Win (9-2)
Nov. 25 vs. California
ASU goes into their last game of the regular season with thoughts of a 10-win season and dream of a BCS bowl. They will be a very hungry team.
After a disappointing 5-7 2010 season, California made a plethora of staff changes. Most notably, firing offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
Unfortunately for Cal, with the changes come uncertainty. There are plenty of contenders, but no clear-cut front runners to replace the vacancies left at the quarterback and running back positions. Unless the team figures out some chemistry fast, Cal will be lucky to qualify for the postseason.
The Sun Devils will close out the regular season on a high note and go into the bowl season will confidence and momentum.
Result: Win (10-2)
That's right. I believe the Sun Devils are going to pull out a 10-2 season. Who knows, if they get a couple breaks and the ball bounces their way, ASU just may play their way into the conference championship game.
Update (12 Oct): 6 games into it and the Devils are 5-1. OK, so they didn't get to this point exactly how I predicted they would, losing a close one to Illinois and spanking Utah. However, going into Oregon at 5-1 is a good spot for the Devils to be in. They are well on track for a 10-win season. Fork 'em Devils!