As the Sun Devils prepare to defend their Pac-12 South crown, here are the games to look out for next season. It may come as no surprise that most of these games are within the conference, with the one non-conference game being a chance for redemption against a storied football program.
Thursday, Sept. 25 – UCLA at ASU
UCLA redshirt junior quarterback Brett Hundley’s decision to stay for another year gives him another shot at the Sun Devils. Last year, ASU gave UCLA its only home loss of the season as the Sun Devils beat the Bruins 38-33 en route to their sixth straight win. Hundley threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, but UCLA could not stop ASU’s running game. Surprisingly enough, redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly led ASU in rushing with 99 yards on the ground and a touchdown while running back Marion Grice added 95 yards on 18 carries. Grice is no longer on the team and Kelly can’t be expected to have a repeat performance on his feet, so the Sun Devils will have to rely on junior running back D.J. Foster to beat the Bruins this time. With possible Heisman candidate Hundley and sophomore running back Myles Jack coming off his breakout season in that UCLA offense, this will surely be a high-scoring game.
Saturday, Oct. 18 – Stanford at ASU
The Sun Devils will be plenty motivated for this game. Stanford not only beat ASU early in the regular season but it also blew them out in the Pac-12 Championship game for the right to go to the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal accounted for half of ASU’s four losses last year and while doing so outscored the Sun Devils by a combined 80-42. However, the good news for the Sun Devils is that former Cardinal running back Tyler Gaffney is now in the NFL. Gaffney torched ASU in both meetings last season, including rushing for 133 yards and three scores in the Pac-12 Championship game. Stanford also lost its two best offensive linemen in Cameron Fleming and David Yankey, so don’t expect the running game to be as much of a factor this year. ASU redshirt junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong had 12 catches for 168 yards and a score in their first meeting last season. Foster turned in a do-it-all performance in the Championship game with 62 yards rushing and a touchdown while leading the Sun Devils in receiving with four catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. With another year under their belts and those two losses fresh in their mind, Kelly, Strong and Foster will look to turn the tide against Stanford.
Saturday, Nov. 8 – Notre Dame at ASU
ASU almost became the first team in college football history to beat USC and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks, but a costly pick-6 in the fourth quarter sealed up the 37-34 win for the Fighting Irish. This time Notre Dame welcomes back quarterback Everett Golson, who led the team to a 12-1 record in 2012 but was suspended for the 2013 season because of academic violations. Golson is explosive and will look to hurt an ASU defense that only returns two starters from last season with his arm and his feet. The Sun Devils will need to get the running game going after rushing for only 65 yards total against Notre Dame last season while cutting down on the mistakes, as they turned the ball over three times in that game.
Friday, Nov. 28 – ASU at UA
The Sun Devils’ final game before the Pac-12 Championship game comes against their most bitter rival. ASU ran away with their meeting last season to the tune of a 58-21 blowout victory. It was the biggest blowout victory in the Territorial Cup since ASU beat UA 56-14 in 1996. All facets of the game were working for the Sun Devils, scoring touchdowns through the air, on the ground and defensively. Foster had a career game, rushing for 124 yards and two scores while Strong hauled in 142 yards receiving, including a 61-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The Territorial Cup dates back to 1899, making it the oldest rivalry game in college football. It has also been won by ASU two years in a row. UA leads the overall series 47-39-1, but ASU has been victorious in 10 of the last 15 years. Both teams always look forward to this game, and it rarely disappoints.
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