TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona State exceeded expectations in the first year of the Herm Edwards era, finishing a surprising second in the Pac-12's South Division en route to a Las Vegas Bowl berth. Whether the Sun Devils, who open their season Thursday night against visiting Kent State, can top or even match that this season will depend largely on a true freshman starting quarterback.
TV: 10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network LINE: Arizona State -25
Jayden Daniels, ranked one of the nation's top dual-threat quarterback prospects coming out of Cajon (Calif.) High School where he threw for 14,007 yards and 170 touchdowns and ran for another 3,645 yards and 41 TDs in 53 starts, beat out junior Dillon Sterling-Cole and fellow true freshmen Ethan Long and Joey Yellen to earn the starting job and will become the first true freshman to start an opener in school history. "I'm sure I will have a few jitters," the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Daniels said. "I'm just going to go out there and hopefully let the game come to me. I'm grateful for the opportunity." Daniels has some big shoes to fill in replacing three-year starter Manny Wilkins who passed for 3,025 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing just six interceptions and signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent. Luckily he gets to make his debut against a Kent State team that returns five defensive starters from a unit that ranked 117th in total defense and allowed an average of 247.0 yards per game through the air.
ABOUT KENT STATE (2018: 2-10)
The Golden Flashes have a pretty good dual-threat quarterback of their own in junior Woody Barrett, a former Auburn commit who threw for 2,339 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 503 yards and seven more scores as a sophomore last season. The Golden Flashes return three starting wide receivers, and senior backup wideout Kavious Price also turned heads during fall camp. Kent State, which gave up an average of 36.7 points per game last season, was picked to finish fourth in the MAC East Division behind Ohio, Buffalo and Miami in the MAC coaches preseason poll.
ABOUT ARIZONA STATE (2018: 7-6)
Although star wide receiver N'Keal Harry has moved on to the New England Patriots, who made him final pick of the first round of the NFL draft, Daniels will be surrounded by a strong returning offensive nucleus led by junior running back Eno Benjamin was ranked fifth nationally with 1,642 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. The offensive line returns three starts led by All-Pac-12 second team center Cohl Cabral and left tackle Zach Robertson while junior speedster Frank Darby and senior slot Kyle Williams give Daniels two returning wide receivers to throw to. The defense, which finished plus-10 in turnover ratio and allowed an average of 25.5 points per game, is led by sophomore linebacker Merlin Robertson and cornerbacks Chase Lucas and Kobe Williams.
1. Robertson became the third player in school history to earn conference Defensive Freshman of the Year honors after leading the team in tackles (77), tackles for losses (8.5) and sacks (5.0).
2. Yellen, another highly touted true freshman from Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School, will serve as Daniels' backup.
3. Junior Brandon Ruiz, who was 18-of-22 on field goal attempts including 4-of-5 from 40-49 yards, returns to give the Sun Devils one of the top kickers in the Pac-12.
PREDICTION: Arizona State 37, Kent State 10