Game Day/Kickoff Time: Sept. 4, 2010/7:00 p.m.
Location: Sun Devil Stadium (Tempe, Ariz.)
Head Coach: Nigel Burton (1st year at PSU/1st year overall)
2009 Record: 2-9 (1-7 Big Sky Conference)
All-Time Against ASU: First meeting
Top Returners: K Zach Brown, WR Ray Fry, LB Ryan Rau, CB DeShawn Shead, CB Mike Williams
Returning Starters: 11 (5 Offense/6 Defense)
2010 Schedule Prior to Playing ASU: None
PSU Athletics Website: http://www.goviks.com
In place of a previously scheduled matchup with San Jose State, ASU will face Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) member Portland State, the first time the two regionally-proximal schools have met on the gridiron. PSU is one of two Big Sky squads the Sun Devils will face in 2010, as in-state foe Northern Arizona trips from Flagstaff to Tempe on Sept. 11. ASU opened the 2009 season with yet another Big Sky team, Idaho State, and has played NAU three additional times since the 2003 season.
The failed experiment with former NFL and FBS head coach Jerry Glanville concluded last November after a two-win season in 2009 and a 9-24 three-year tenure at the helm for the Vikings. In his place arrives Nigel Burton, most recently an assistant at Nevada and Oregon State, who became the first African-American head coach in the history of the Big Sky Conference. A defensive-minded 33-year-old former standout defensive back at the University of Washington, Burton's name may spark memories to Sun Devil fans not just because of his past Pac-10 involvement, but his mention in Omar Bolden's famed NLI signing day announcement in 2007 as he was lead recruiter for the Beavers' efforts to obtain Bolden's signature.
In 2009, Portland State finished as the bottom team in the Big Sky Conference, as a final week, last-minute loss to Idaho State clinched the Vikings' spot in the league cellar. In addition to Glanville's unceremonious departure, PSU loses half its starting lineup from last season. PSU signed 20 players this February to National Letters of Intent, including six junior college transfers, four of which arrived on campus early to participate in spring drills—the same amount of total and midyear transfers ASU accepted this offseason.
The Vikings ranked in the bottom half of the Big Sky in terms of most team statistics, averaging 21.1 points and 355.2 total yards per game, while allowing 33.8 points and 413.2 yards per game. Three PSU players earned All-Big-Sky recognition, however only kicker Zach Brown, a First-Team honoree, returns in 2010.
Quarterback Drew Hubel returns after a shaky 2010 season in which he completed 55.6-percent of his passes for 1,976 yards with nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Dual threat Connor Kavanaugh (444 passing yards, 390 rushing yards) and former Oregon State Beaver Justin Engstrom (303 passing yards, three touchdowns, six interceptions) form a trio that had a very poor 14-to-23 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2009. The passing personnel may have a new focus this season as Nick Green, a former transfer from Air Force, and Hank Taylor, who both redshirted in 2009, saw substantial time in the spring.
Playmakers Bobby McClintock (420 rushing yards, 240 receiving yards), Aaron Woods (43 receptions, 535 receiving yards) and Lavonte Kirven (37 receptions, 660 receiving yards) depart from last year's roster, leaving Ray Fry as the only major offensive target after he totaled 67 catches for 904 yards in 2009. Beside Fry, no player on the roster hauled in more than six receptions a year ago and fullback Ben Bowen (275 rushing yards) is the only non-quarterback on the 2010 roster to have rushed for over 16 net yards last season. In total, PSU is charged with replacing its top running back, three of four starting receivers and two starting offensive linemen.
On defense, only three of the top seven tacklers return, led by Ryan Rau who totaled 72 tackles including 10.0 for loss in 2009. Cornerbacks Mike Williams and DeShawn Shead combined for 94 tackles and four interceptions; however the Vikings must replace both starting safeties and three starting members of the front seven.
Schematically, PSU ran a four-receiver offense and a 3-4 defensive front last season, however Burton plans to utilize a ‘Pistol' offense, similar to his previous coaching stop at Nevada, as well as a more traditional 4-3 defensive alignment.
In PSU's annual spring game, the White Team defeated the Green Team, as the White squad, led by Green and Taylor, accumulated 269 total yards in the victory.
In total, the 2010 opener figures to be greatly similar to last year's kickoff game, if not more disadvantageous for the visiting squad given the coaching staff and player turnover.
In many cases, games against FCS opposition are viewed as ‘lose-lose' situations in which a loss is apocalyptic and anything less than a five-touchdown victory is the precursor to a disappointing season. However, given the new faces and previous inconsistency of the Sun Devil offense, the predicted ‘warm-up' element of the first two games may prove beneficial during a very challenging stretch that awaits the Sun Devils in the middle third of the season.