Losing half of the six games would cause many fans to look at the season as a bit of a disappointment. Winning four or more games lays the foundation for a successful '04 campaign. If the Devils can somehow run the table, a great season is within their grasp.
Here is a quick look at each of the games:
September 20th at Iowa
After two warm up games against NAU and Utah State, the Sun Devils take their first road trip of the season. Kinnink Stadium in Iowa City is their destination. The Hawkeyes are coming off a very impressive 2002 season in which they played in the Orange Bowl against USC. However, the Hawkeyes were hurt by graduation and do not return many of their key players, including Heisman candidate QB Brad Banks.
The main battle in this game will be size vs. speed. If Iowa can use their size to dominate the trenches and make ASU's speed a non-factor, they will keep this game low scoring and will have a good chance of winning at home. If, however, ASU can hold their own at the line of scrimmage, the speed advantage on offense should allow the Sun Devils to put enough points on the board to win a close one in a tough road game.
Because this game is not a conference game, losing it will not seriously hurt ASU's chances for a good season. Winning the game would really build momentum heading into conference play.
September 27th at Oregon State
Late September in Corvallis is much better than late October, but this game will still be a very tough one for the Devils to win. The Beavers will be seeking revenge for last year's loss in Tempe in which poor clock management may have cost them the victory.
Oregon State will feature the best running back the Sun Devils will face, senior Steven Jackson. If Jackson is allowed to run wild, thereby giving happy feet sophomore QB Anderson time to make easy throws, the Sun Devils will be in trouble. In a positive feature of the schedule, ASU will be facing OSU the week after playing another team who wants to run the ball in Iowa. Playing the Hawkeyes first should allow the Devils ample time to get their schemes against Jackson and the Beavers up-to-speed.
If ASU can hold Jackson to around 100 yards rushing, they will have a chance to keep it close. On the other side of the ball, OSU returns some talented players in the front seven of their defense; however, they will be younger in the secondary and Walter to whomever may be something heard early and often.
This game and USC the following week will be the toughest of the six game stretch.
October 4th against USC
I think it is fair to say that, thanks to our many USC visitors, we all know that USC is the pre-season favorite to win the Pac 10. Despite losing great players at QB, RB, and S, the Trojans are still stacked with talent. Additionally, ASU has not played well against the Men of Troy in recent years.
Luckily for ASU, this game is in Tempe and, assuming a strong start to the season for the Devils, will have a large crowd cheering the Devils to victory. To cut to the chase, this game will be won or lost in the trenches. USC's offensive and defensive lines are very good, especially the DL. ASU will be in for a long day if the "big uglies" cannot give Walter time to find the WRs or if they do not shut down the running game enough to require the green USC QBs to win the game for the Trojans.
Hopefully the Sun Devil OL and DL are up to the task.
October 11th against Oregon
The Ducks will be quackin' mad after a mediocre 2002 season, especially since Andrew Walter's 500+ yard aerial assault exposed the weakness in the Ducks' secondary. Every other Pac 10 team put the ball in the air early and often in the Ducks, following ASU's lead.
This game scares us here at DevilsDigest, especially if the Sun Devils somehow pull out victories in the previous two weeks. It has let down written all over it.
The Ducks will have enough experience to have settled into how they are going to handle their questions at QB and RB at this time in the season, so this game will be more challenging that if ASU played UO in mid-September. Additionally, the Ducks DL gave the Devils fits in Eugene last year, so the running game will have to do more damage if the Sun Devils want any chance at a comfortable victory.
The Sun Devils have the upper hand in this match up on paper, but we think there is a very good chance for this game to be a real nail-biter.
October 18th at North Carolina
The Tar Heels will not strike fear in many teams this season, but traveling across the country after four very tough games is not a good recipe for success. Additionally, the UNC QB, Durant, gave the Sun Devil defense all kinds of problems last season. He is very mobile and is a threat to run, while also possessing a good arm.
The key to this game should be simple – contain Durant. If ASU can do that, they should be able to put enough points up to win the game. However, if Durant is allowed to get out of the pocket to run wild and make plays, all bets are off and anything can happen.
Another key here will be for ASU to not make mistakes, which is not easy for a team that is physically and mentally tired. As we all remember, last year's loss to UNC was helped by numerous ASU turnovers and some shaky kicking from the otherwise solid Mike Barth.
If ASU can stay mentally strong, this is a game the Devils should win.
October 25th at UCLA
Do the Devils ever play well against the Bruins in Pasadena? We can't remember it happening in recent memory. The last time the Devils went to Pasadena, they blew an early 20+ point lead. Not pretty.
This year's Bruin squad is really an enigma. There are a bunch of questions marks around the team, but there is also a bunch of talent. Will Dorrell quickly come up to speed with being a head coach in the Pac 10? Can one of their young QBs get the ball to their talented offensive weapons? Will Ebell improve upon his impressive 2002 campaign? If UCLA can answer these questions positively, they have the chance to make some major noise in the Pac 10. If not, they will find themselves in the 4-6 range at the end of the season.
ASU's defense will be the key to this game. If they can keep the running game in check, the UCLA QB will have to make enough plays to put points on the board. If Ebell gets going, play action and the quick passing game could give the Devil D fits.
The UCLA defense should be strong, but ASU has proven they can put up points on just about anyone. We don't see a reason that will not be true in Pasadena, too.
Winning this game will tell a lot about where the Sun Devils will end the season in the Pac 10.
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