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ASU football finishes a 2022 season to forget, turns page toward 2023 with Kenny Dillingham

The Sun Devil's 2022 football saw the most losses since 1994 and saga full of instability

ASU football finished the 2022 campaign with a dispiriting 3-9 record, the first time the program has only managed to win three games since 1994, and the Sun Devils' worst record this century. 

However, the next season's preparation was kickstarted two days after the season's end. ASU hired former Oregon offensive coordinator and ASU alum Kenny Dillingham to be the program's next head coach. 

The Sun Devils seem to be already moving on from this tumultuous campaign, but what went wrong?

A Rock Bottom Start

There were many doubts even before the season started. After ASU’s 2021 season, many of the team's core players either transferred out of the program or committed to the NFL draft. Some former players included star quarterback Jayden Daniels, who took his talents to LSU, and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Rachaad White. 

ASU failed to attract talent with the looming, ongoing NCAA investigation into recruiting violations by the program that occurred in 2020 during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period. This precedent forced former head coach Herm Edwards to remake his staff which could only muster the 103rd-ranked recruiting class in 2022, according to 247sports.

Because of this, the Sun Devils overhauled its roster and brought in a new offensive and defensive coordinator. Despite the numerous accounts from Edwards praising his primarily new roster, it didn’t pan out. 

After a 1-2 start with losses to Oklahoma State and Eastern Michigan, Edwards left the program. EMU became the first MAC team to defeat a Pac-12 opponent. The Eagles ran for 305 rushing yards as a 20.5-point underdog. 

After this humiliating upset, the Sun Devils turned to runningbacks coach Shaun Aguano to become the interim head coach and lead what some called an already sinking ship. 

READ MORE: Herm Edwards out as football head coach


Coach Aguano immediately impacted the team when he stepped out of the chair of his introductory press conference. Through his family-like attitude towards his players and his ability to increase the work done at practice.

Aguano changed the culture of the entire program in a matter of days. Players on the team seemed to respond well to Aguano, and nobody looked ready to give up. 

"If they were going to choose one guy for the job, I believe coach Aguano was the right guy they chose," senior fullback Case Hatch said earlier this season. 

Unfortunately, the only thing that didn't change was the results on Saturdays. 

Aguano went 2-7 in his stead, facing five top-25-ranked teams in the nine games he coached. His two wins came against ranked Washington at home and at Colorado. After the game against the Buffaloes, the Sun Devils lost their last four games, including losing the Territorial Cup to the University of Arizona for the first time since 2016.

However, his record doesn’t tell the whole story. Aguano has nurtured a core of offensive players that can immediately impact Dillingham’s new regime. 

Players such as redshirt junior quarterback Trenton Bourguet and sophomore wide receiver Elijhah Badger jumped onto the national football scene under Aguano. 

Redshirt junior tight end Jalin Conyers had a career resurgence partially thanks to Aguano, who took over playcalling duties vs. Colorado. Conyers became the first tight end in program history to score three touchdowns in a single game while tallying 108 receiving yards against the Buffaloes. 

"His performance was fantastic," Aguano said after that game. "I thought our tight ends were underutilized in some instances this season. I always thought they were athletic and strong enough, and there were some mismatches we took advantage of."

Aguano didn’t do the best in his head coaching role, but Dillingham made sure that the first thing he did as the new ASU football coach was to retain Aguano on his coaching staff. A gesture like that shows how valuable Agauno is to the program. 

"It was a tough situation for coach Aguano," graduate student linebacker Kyle Soelle said. "He took it the best way he could. We gave it our all for him, and he kept us together as a family."

The season from a statistical standpoint

Statistically, the Sun Devils weren't top five in any offensive or defensive category in the Pac-12 conference. Six of their losses this year were by double digits, and they finished 3rd worst in the Pac-12 only in front of Stanford and Colorado. 

Going into the season, junior quarterback Emory Jones, who transferred in from Florida last year, was supposed to be ASU's starting quarterback. Jones couldn't get the Sun Devils into the win column in Pac-12 play, and his only win as a starter came against NAU in the first week of the season. Jones never threw for more than 300 yards in a game and also never threw more than two passing touchdowns in a game as a starter. 

On the other hand, Bourguet threw for over 300 passing yards three times in his six appearances as the signal-caller. He also had three passing touchdowns in three of those games.

Graduate student running back Xazavian Valladay ended his illustrious college career with a bang, rushing for an outstanding 1192 rushing yards complimented by 16 rushing touchdowns, the most in the Pac-12. 

"Honestly, I don't track my stats," Valladay said. "I just go out there and play the game. I've shown to be consistent, and I’ve been able to help the offense out with my style of play and versatility, so yeah, I'm very toned down on making plays and being the best player that can be."

Badger showed more than his worth as a Sun Devil this year, racking up 866 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns, both most on the team.

On defense, there was one glaring problem among all else. The Sun Devils could never stop the run. They let up 188.1 rushing yards per game and 31 rushing touchdowns in total, both bottom five in the conference. 

UA junior running back Michael Wiley only had 557 rushing yards on the season before facing ASU. He proceeded to squash the Sun Devils' run defense, tallying 214 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

What now?

The swift hire of Dillingham already has ASU looking towards next year and the new era of Sun Devil football. It will be fascinating to see how the ASU alum navigates the modern college football landscape with the new NIL and the rapidly increasing traffic in the transfer portal. 

"I am a firm believer in the transfer portal," Dillingham said. "I am the number one advocate for it because what happens in recruiting is that you have a whole bunch of people tell kids what they want to hear for two or three years. In the past, those kids would get told what they wanted to hear and get stuck and trapped."

READ MORE: Arizona Native and ASU Alumnus Kenny Dillingham to be Next Head Football Coach

Dillingham also urged the entire Valley to come together if the Sun Devils want to win at the highest level, saying that he needs everyone to because he believes that ASU football can be special, and he needs everyone who can believe in it and get involved. 

Nap Lawrence, a well-known ASU booster, announced during the Sunday press conference that he would donate $1 million to the Sun Angel collective, the school's NIL partnership. 

Dillingham already hired former Idaho State Head Coach Charlie Ragle as the assistant head coach/special teams coordinator. Ragle was head coach at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, the school Dillingham graduated from.

ASU is already looking in better shape than it did at the beginning of this season, but overall this will be a season that Sun Devil faithful will want to forget quickly. 

Edited by Walker Smith, David Rodish and Grace Copperthite.

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Vinny DeangelisSports Reporter

Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and 

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