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The Arizona State football team is 112 days away from its season opener, and 121 days from its week-two matchup against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are pinned as the toughest opponent that the Sun Devils have faced in a couple of seasons.
OSU was just a few yards short of a College Football Playoff berth last season. The Cowboys will be back on somewhat of a revenge tour with some talented starters returning from that team.
The most notable Cowboy coming back for another season is redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Sanders. Sanders had himself one hell of a 2021 campaign, winning the 2021 Playstation Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP in Oklahoma State’s 37-35 victory against Notre Dame at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. He completed 34 of 51 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns in that game.
He was also was voted All-Big 12 First Team by coaches thanks to his 2,839 passing yards, 20 touchdown passes and 62.1 completion percentage.
This doesn’t bode well for the weakest link of the ASU defense, the secondary. The Devils are hoping to replace the production lost with the departure of defensive backs Jack Jones and Chase Lucas, who were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.
A veteran such as Sanders is capable of keeping his team in a game for all four quarters. That quality may prove to be the difference maker between the Cowboys and the Sun Devils.
“Those guys that have been around and been out there, they’re the ones that have to help carry it,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said in a post-spring game press conference. “We don’t play as coaches, right? We put them in a position and then they have to grasp it, take off with it and run with it.”
Sanders is one of the star-studded names on the Cowboys’ roster that will need to shoulder some of the load. The others happen to be on the other side of the ball.
Redshirt senior defensive linemen Tyler Lacy and Brock Martin are the staples of the Cowboys’ defense. The duo combined for 12.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2021.
There was a real case for Martin to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft after the 2021 season. Fortunately for the Cowboys, Martin said he wanted to spend another year mastering his craft.
“I haven’t quite had a good enough year to declare for the draft,” Martin told Oklahoma State media following the 2021 season. “That’s the simple way to put it.”
Martin, along with the other behemoths on the OSU defensive line, will be up against an ASU offensive line made up of mainly transfers. The number of transfers on the Sun Devil offensive line isn’t the concern. The lack of experience playing together is.
While the group still has some time to build chemistry in the fall, it remains to be seen where Iowa State graduate transfer offensive lineman Joey Ramos fits. Ramos, along with several other players, transferred to Tempe after spring football concluded.
This week-two matchup between ASU and OSU will likely come down to how well the Sun Devils can protect their new redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones. Jones transferred from Florida to ASU just last week and figures to be the starter.
Prior to Jones’ arrival in Tempe, this game against Oklahoma State was written off as a blowout loss for Arizona State. While the odds are still stacked against the Sun Devils, they’ve got a real shot with a proven quarterback in Jones.
With the Cowboys secondary having lost as many key pieces as the Sun Devils did to the NFL Draft, this game could be a shootout. That goes without mentioning the departure of former OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.
Knowles made the Cowboys one of the best statistical defenses in the nation in 2021. OSU finished the season No. 5 in total defense in the FBS. He has since been replaced by Derek Mason.
With Mason likely still getting his feet wet at the helm of the OSU defense, Sanders versus Jones is set up to be an electric head-to-head battle for college football fans.
The edge still firmly goes in favor of OSU given the time that Sanders has spent with the Cowboys, but ASU also added senior wide receiver Camron Johnson who transferred from Vanderbilt.
This new duo in the desert puts the Sun Devils in a much better position than they were just a week ago. As mentioned earlier, ASU is still projected by pundits to lose this game against Oklahoma State. In fact, pundits don’t give Arizona State much of a chance at all to put together a strong season. Johnson told PHNX Sports that the outside noise with regard to both non-conference and Pac-12 play only fuels the fire.
“I love challenges,” he said. “I think that knowing that (USC) is going into the season, they’re gonna be the big dog by some people’s standards, is something that is gonna be exciting for me and for the team.”