With temperatures soaring past 100 degrees and students flooding campus for the start of fall classes, it can only mean one thing: The college football season is near.
Few are likely as geared up for the start of the season as ASU coach Dennis Erickson.
“We’re excited about our football team,” Erickson said. “We’ve got a lot of returners back in a lot of different areas.”
In fact, Erickson’s Sun Devils return seven starters on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball from a team that went 10-3 and won a share of the Pac-10 conference title in 2007.
The Sun Devils stormed out of the gate last season, starting 8-0 before a loss to the University of Oregon in Eugene.
Despite a lopsided loss to the University of Texas in the Holiday Bowl, most considered last season’s results a rousing success.
With that came increased expectations and a No. 15 national ranking. But the schedule-maker makes fulfilling them an entirely different task.
Anticipation embodies the program’s feeling about the Sept. 20 matchup with No. 1 University of Georgia.
Single-game tickets to that contest, which will be played at Sun Devil Stadium, sold out in a hurry.
While the game against the Bulldogs is the most anticipated of the season, it’s not the Sun Devils’ only obstacle to improvement.
ASU has road games against California Oct. 4 and then against No. 3 USC Oct. 11. The Sun Devils will then host No. 21 Oregon Oct. 25.
Any chance of reaching the Rose Bowl will be decided in those weeks.
“That’s a tough stretch. There’s no question about it,” Erickson said.
Senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter knows he will be shouldering many of the expectations for his team this season.
As a junior last year, Carpenter threw for 3,202 yards and 25 touchdowns and earned Pac-10 Honorable Mention Honors for the second consecutive season.
“Having an experienced quarterback is huge,” Erickson said.
Carpenter heads into the season on the watch list for the 2008 Walter Camp Player of the Year award, an accolade given annually to college football’s best player.
Carpenter enters the season as the active Pac-10 leader in passing yards (7,998), touchdowns (65), and completions (586). He is on pace to surpass former ASU quarterback Andrew Walter as the all-time passing leader at Arizona State.
Entering the second season under the watch of Erickson, Carpenter is confident the Sun Devils will perform well in the crucial games.
“We’ll take that experience from last season into this season for other big games,” he said in July. “We have a tough schedule so we’ll need that experience.”
While Carpenter is poised to lead the Sun Devils through the air this season, the team will look for senior running back Keegan Herring to control the ground game.
His 2,234 career rushing yards puts Herring at 10th on the all-time Sun Devil rushing list. The total also makes him the conference’s active rushing leader.
Herring, whose permanent smile and high intensity make him a fan favorite, was the Sun Devils leading rusher last season with 815 yards on 154 carries.
ASU’s talent at the skill positions includes the return of the majority of last year’s receiving corps.
Last season’s leading receiver, junior Chris McGaha, caught 61 passes a season ago.
Also returning will be senior wide receiver Michael Jones who led the Sun Devils last season with ten touchdown catches. Jones spent the summer playing minor league baseball in Florida but is back in Tempe looking to spend his fall in the end zone.
Defensively, ASU will be led by senior safety Troy Nolan, who is on a handful of preseason watch lists including the Nagurski Trophy, which is given annually to college football’s best defensive player.
Nolan led the Sun Devils with six interceptions last season and was named as a team captain at the end of fall camp.
The Sun Devils will also be strong on the defensive line with possibly the Pac-10’s best defensive end duo in junior Dexter Davis and senior Luis Vasquez. The pair combined for 16 sacks last season and is projected to put up even bigger numbers in their second year together anchoring the line.
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