Rice: Sun Devils a Likable Long Shot in Race for College Football Playoff

Departures and a shortened season has rendered the Pac-12 title hunt wide open

Posted on September 29, 2020

Wills Rice
  By Wills Rice of Dash Sports TV for SportsPac12

A week ago at this time, we were awaiting the Pac-12’s decision on whether or not they were willing to be the last Power 5 conference to return to play. Fast forward seven days and the Sun Devils and the rest of the Conference have six weeks to prepare for a seven-game conference-only schedule starting the first weekend of November.

The likelihood of a 7-0 Pac-12 team getting into the College Football Playoff over an 8-1 SEC or Big Ten program seemed slim, at least before last weekend’s upsets, but here’s how such a team might do it.

If Oregon were to go undefeated in their five Pac-12 North games, a lot would depend on who the Ducks drew as a crossover (interdivisional) opponent.  If the Conference schedules a challenging road game for the Ducks, capable of improving UO’s strength of schedule—such as USC, ASU or Utah, in addition to a Pac-12 Championship, against one of those three—that should suffice to impress the Selection Committee.

The road to the CFP would likely prove much more difficult for the Sun Devils, with guaranteed games against Arizona, Colorado, and UCLA, none of which represent the caliber of competition the Committee seeks.

That being said, ASU has an opportunity unlike any in previous years because the Pac-12 has never have been as wide open as it appears to be in this shortened season. With Oregon losing so many players to graduation and the NFL draft, including their four-year starting quarterback, the Conference may not have a dominate team.

There have been comparable scenarios recently in other sports: For example, MLB’s Miami Marlins, who just clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2006, while the Red Sox are in last place in the division behind the Orioles, and the defending World Series champs are one of the worst teams in baseball.

The point is, during a shortened season, anything is possible, and Arizona State has the weapons it needs to make a deep run at a Pac-12 title this year, if not beyond.

Still, expectations for this Devil squad are hard to gauge.  Five of ASU’s opponents will come from the Pac-12 South with one regular-season North opponent yet to be named, and another cross-divisional opponent to be determined by where the Sun Devils finish in the South Division standings.

Devil fans will be interested to see who the Conference schedules for its North opponent.  USC would be the most desirable South opponent for North teams, but would the Sun Devils be deemed the next-most worthy opponent, or would it be Utah?

ASU QB Jayden Daniels scrambles vs. Michigan in 2019. | freep.com

ASU finished last season strong, with wins over Oregon, Arizona and Florida State in the Sun Bowl.  Utah sputtered at the end, losing to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship and then getting embarrassed by Texas in the Alamo Bowl.  Although last year’s record does not affect this year’s team, people around the country remember recent games against top tier opponents and do not forget. Just ask Michigan.

Regardless, Sun Devil fans can look forward to more progress as the “Herm Train” leaves the station once again, with a seasoned Jayden Daniels poised for his sophomore season and multiple new weapons at wide receiver and running back.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment of Daniels, of course, and Pro Football Focus recently rated him the fifth-best quarterback in the Pac-12. Devil fans know that Herm would be thrilled to have opponents underestimate his quarterback and label his team an “underdog” heading into this unusual season.

You can watch Rice’s Devil Dash Sports Talk Show on Dash Sports TV, and read his other sports stories and columns at Cronkite Sports.

—Recent Wills Rice Stories—

Pin It on Pinterest