By JOHN MARSHALL – AP Sportswriter
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The curtain closed around Herm Edwards’ hot seat in the minutes following Arizona State’s victory over rival Arizona last November, when athletic director Ray Anderson said that the charismatic coach would return in 2022.
The Heat could resume this season if the Sun Devils don’t reunite soon with a roster that includes 43 new players.
“Right now, it seems to me from a distance when I look at them, it’s a very tight-knit group of guys, in my opinion,” Edwards said. ”How are they going to play together, how are they going to unite collectively? You will probably only know after the third week of competition. What kind of team do you have? After three weeks you will understand how they play together.
After a disjointed and pandemic-altered 2020 season, Arizona State had high expectations last year. The Sun Devils managed to win eight games, but suffered some nasty losses mid-season. They played in the shadow of an NCAA investigation into improper recruiting practices.
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With the investigation still ongoing, Arizona State has lost five assistant coaches, including the two coordinators, and numerous players to the transfer portal. The Sun Devils also had 11 players who were drafted or signed to NFL teams as free agents.
Arizona State replaced them primarily through the transfer portal, which led to low expectations — at least from outside the program. Arizona State was chosen to finish 10th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll.
“We obviously see the outside noise and I think the team really has a chip on our shoulders,” Arizona State linebacker Kyle Soelle said.
Two transfers should have an immediate impact on the Sun Devils – quarterback Emory Jones and running back Xazavian Valladay.
Arizona State took a huge hit when three-year-old starter Jayden Daniels opted to trade to LSU. Jones should soften some of the impact.
A transfer to Florida, the athletic quarterback is a threat with his arms and legs. Jones threw for over 2,700 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, adding 787 yards and five rushing touchdowns. He’s played in a major conference before, but accuracy was an issue with 13 interceptions last season.
Arizona State finished 35th nationally in rushing offense last season. However, the team lost Rachaad White to the NFL and Chip Trayanum to Ohio State.
Valladay could keep the Sun Devils on track after rushing for 1,063 yards and six touchdowns for Wyoming last season.
Arizona State lost cornerbacks Chase Lucas and Jack Jones to the NFL, and both starting safeties are gone. That leaves new defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson with an inexperienced secondary.
The receiver room will also be inexperienced. Ricky Pearsall and LV Bunkley-Shelton, Arizona State’s top two receivers last season, both opted to transfer. Andre Johnson is the leading returner after catching nine passes for 186 yards and a touchdown last season.
Arizona State’s offensive line needs to be rebuilt with four of the six players who started last season and key backups missing. They have mostly been replaced by transfers.
One of Arizona State’s biggest problems last year was penalties, many before the ball was even broken.
The Sun Devils were 127th in the FBS with 8.77 penalties per game and 128th with 78.4 penalty yards. Reducing these was an important point for Edwards and his team.
Arizona State opens the season at home Sept. 1 against Northern Arizona, which beat Arizona on the road last season. The Sun Devils also have non-conference games at Oklahoma State and at home against Eastern Michigan before kicking off the Pac-12 season at home against defending Pac-12 champion Utah on Sept. 24.
Arizona State’s conference road games include Southern California, Stanford and rival Arizona in its regular season finale.
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