Eight FBS teams lost to FCS schools in the first weekend of college football, including Pac-12 North contender Oregon State.
ASU hasn’t had any trouble in any of its past season openers against FCS foes. Still, coach Todd Graham isn’t lowering his guard against the Sun Devils’ first opponent in Sacramento State.
The Hornets (0-1) have taken down two Pac-12 teams in the last two seasons, upsetting Oregon State in 2011 and Colorado last season.
Graham and the Sun Devils (0-0) have no plans to be the Hornets’ third Pac-12 victim.
“I haven’t sat there and told our players, ‘You better get prepared or you will get beat,’” Graham said. “I tell them that the key is that they have no excuse. We can’t make any excuses. … You’re expected to win this game, and you should, and if you don’t, that’s ridiculous.”
The Sun Devils’ season opener is the first of what Graham hopes to be a 14-game campaign toward a national championship. Graham wants his team to take a focused approach to not just avoid an upset but also prepare the Sun Devils for a strenuous four-game stretch with Wisconsin, USC, Stanford and Notre Dame ahead.
“This game is the conference championship, the way we look at it,” he said. “That’s how we prepare. That’s how we play, and we have to get better on every rep, every play and ultimately, come out a winner and get a victory.”
Graham’s approach shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with his philosophy for the past year, but it’s no longer his own idea.
The entire team is taking the same approach toward Sacramento State, especially senior safety Alden Darby.
“The approach is we’re taking this game just like we’re playing USC for the conference championship,” Darby said. “You prepare for everybody the same way. You can’t take any opponent lightly. You have to take it day by day, game by game and treat everyone as if you’re playing for the national championship.”
This is the Sun Devils’ first-ever matchup against the Hornets. Despite Sacramento State’s past success against Pac-12 teams, the Hornets finished fifth last year in the Big Sky Conference and were in the middle of nearly every statistical category in the conference. They ended the year one spot in the standings below NAU, a team ASU blew out in last season’s opener 63-6.
Sacramento State opened the season with a 24-0 loss at San Jose State on Friday. Although the Hornets’ total offense only had 278 yards, gave up 142 rushing yards and threw two interceptions, Graham said Sacramento State plays better than it looked against the Spartans. He offered high praise for junior quarterback Garrett Safron, senior running back Ezekiel Graham and senior wide receiver Morris Norrise.
“Just like any team, they have got good skill players,” Todd Graham said. “They are well-coached on offense (and) in the kicking game. The key for us is not turning the ball over and not beating ourselves in the kicking game.”
Norrise is a formidable first challenge for the ASU secondary that only recently sorted out its position battles. Norrise hauled in 777 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last season and was named to the 2013 Big Sky All-Conference Team.
“We know they have the talent. We know they have the coaching, and our job is to stay focused on these guys,” ASU senior tight end Chris Coyle said. “We can’t look ahead to the next game and the coaches have been doing a good job making sure that we’re focused on game one and what’s happening this week before we move on to the next game.”
Thursday marks the end of a physical, 22-day long fall camp with a week at Camp Tontozona and the beginning of a new season filled with lofty expectations. It’s been 251 days since ASU won the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl last December, and many teams across the nation have already started their campaign.
Ask anyone on ASU’s roster and they’ll say the Sun Devils are more than ready to begin their challenges.
“We’re looking forward to finally hit someone else in oppose to each other,” Coyle said.
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