Editor’s note: Saturday Out West’s annual Crystal Ball prediction series will preview every team in the Pac-12. Today: Arizona State.

Already covered: Arizona 

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My 2022 ASU Crystal Ball ended with an ominous prediction: “A crash is coming.”

How Game of Thrones of me.

But what a prescient prediction it was. In fact, Herm Edwards didn’t even survive until Sept. 20, as he was canned after a 1-2 start. Edwards’ dismissal was long in the making, though, after myriad recruiting allegations during his tenure. Things weren’t much improved under interim coach Shaun Aguano, though: The team’s .250 winning percentage was its worst in 80 years.

So in comes The Kid, Kenny Dillingham, to right the ship. The local boy done good, Dillingham returns to his roots in the desert after blossoming into one of the game’s best young offensive minds. Dilly’s roster overhaul ranks second to only Colorado’s almost complete upheaval, so he has a l0nger leash. But fans will want to see some signs of life heading into the Big 12 move.

Can Dillingham get the Sun Devils to play in his image?

Dillingham is the youngest FBS head coach at 33 years old, capping a meteoric rise for a dude who didn’t even play college football. After a dire few years under Edwards, ASU went young and energetic, and Dillingham immediately set to work on ASU’s culture.

“I think the culture that you are as a person is going to be the reflection of your team, right?” he said at Pac-12 Media Day. “I don’t think you can say ‘we want this culture’ but that culture doesn’t reflect how you live every day. If you try to create a culture that’s not how you’re going to live, eventually people are going to see through it. The culture is we’re going to have more fun than anybody in the country, working harder than anybody in the country. You have to fall in love with the process of growth. You truly see where you stand as a team through adversity, the highs and the lows. It’s hard to simulate those highs and lows when you haven’t played a game.”

Is Dillingham the QB whisperer?

It’s been several years since the Sun Devils got passable passing performance. Jayden Daniels, who has since blossomed into a Heisman contender, was spectacular as a true freshman in 2019, throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 17 scores with just 2 picks. In his next full season, 2021, he was just average, passing for 2,380 yards with 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Somehow, ASU’s 2021 offense scored more points per game (28.4 points-24.8 points) and averaged more yards (386.0-372.1) in 2021 than in 2019, but with Daniels off to LSU last year and Emory Jones unable to live up to his potential last year, ASU averaged just 26.8 points per game.

But in comes Dillingham, who helped Bo Nix reach unforeseen heights last year at Oregon. He could have an immediate impact on Trenton Bourguet, the one-time walk-on who took over for Jones, or Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne.

Who steps up on defense?

ASU will break in 8 new defensive starters for a unit that allowed more than 31 points per game last year. Worse, the Sun Devils return just 45% of their defensive production from last year, 3rd-worst in the conference?

They’ll count on defensive back Ro Torrence to lead the way after allowing just 20 receptions in coverage last season, the lowest among Pac-12 corners with at least 300 coverage snaps.

Game-by-game predictions

Week 1: vs. Southern Utah (W)

ASU suffered an embarrassing nonconference loss last year in Week 3, a 30-21 defeat to Eastern Michigan. It’s hard to imagine a similar slip-up against a cupcake like Southern Utah. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Sun Devils a 96.9% chance of winning their Aug. 31 opener. Anything short of a 20-point rout would be a disappointment.

Week 2: vs. Oklahoma State (L)

OSU won last year, 34-17, in their first matchup since 1993, as Spencer Sanders had more than 320 combined yards and 3 combined touchdowns. With Sanders off to Ole Miss as a transfer, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks this year, particularly at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Garret Rangel could be the guy for OSU;  in 4 games with 3 starts (while preserving his redshirt), Rangel had 711 passing yards and 4 touchdowns with 5 interceptions. Rangel could get pushed by former Texas Tech starter-turned-Michigan backup Alan Bowman.

Whoever gets the nod should be in a good spot: ESPN gives OSU a 64% chance of winning.

Week 3: vs. Fresno State (L)

After back-to-back 10-win seasons and the loss of star QB Jake Haener, the Bulldogs are expected to take a step back this year. But it still surprised me to see that ESPN’s FPI gave the Sun Devils a 63.3% chance of winning. Former UCF quarterback Mikey Keene should be a more than serviceable replacement for Haener after completing 65.6% of his passes over 2 seasons, to go along with 2,377 yards and 23 touchdowns with only 7 picks for the Knights.

I’ve got the Bulldogs in this one.

Week 4: vs. USC (L)

The Trojans should make easy work of the Sun Devils, as the talent gap is about as big as the Grand Canyon. How, exactly, is ASU supposed to stop returning Heisman winner Caleb Williams? He was brilliant in a 42-25 USC win last year, completing 73% of his passes for nearly 350 yards with 4 combined touchdowns. He should be only better in Year 3 in Lincoln Riley’s offense (remember, both started at Oklahoma).

Week 5: at Cal (W)

A historically even matchup — both teams have won 17 games in the rivalry — Cal and ASU are both trying to work themselves out of the muck. Both are coming off 3-win seasons, though Arizona State’s collapse was perhaps more justifiable. The Bears simply stunk.

But with some nice defensive talent returning, including 73% of its production from last year on that side of the ball, Cal has a decided advantage in ESPN’s FPI model, with the Bears boasting a 72.4% chance of winning.

That is inexplicable to me. Cal’s passing game is in a worse spot than ASU’s and I think Dilly will have the Sun Devils fired up for their first road game.

Week 6: vs. Colorado (L)

Here’s a bit of an upset special for you: The FPI pegs ASU at a 76.6% chance of winning, yet I’m taking the Buffaloes. In a battle of almost entirely remade rosters, I like Colorado’s rebuild slightly more. I also see more upside in Shedeur Sanders than Bourguet or Pyne, and I think ASU will have a bit of a lull heading into a bye week.

This would fly in the face of history, though, as ASU has a 10-3 advantage in their surprisingly young series. The teams first played each other in 2006. With both Big 12-bound, they’re bound to get more familiar.

Week 7: Bye

Week 8: at Washington (L)

I’m convinced Washington only joined the Big Ten to get away from Arizona State. The Sun Devils have owned the series since the turn of the millennium. Since 2002, ASU is 13-2 against the Huskies, including a 45-38 win last year. Overall, the Sun Devils have a 22-17 series edge over UDub, a surprising figure given the program’s respective peaks

But Washington is peaking once more, coming off double-digit wins in Kalen DeBoer’s first season. I’m counting on DeBoer and Michael Penix Jr. to learn from their mistakes this time around. So does ESPN’s FPI model, which gives the Huskies an 85.7% chance to win.

Week 9: vs. Washington State (L)

Arizona State has won 28-of-45 in the series, but WSU has won 4-of-5 in recent years, which followed a 10-1 Arizona State stretch. Can the Sun Devils flip the script? They have a shot if they can build some confidence in the offense. ASU will have to avoid looking ahead to a brutal final month of the season, and Bourguet — or whoever is in the saddle come late-October — will particularly have to keep his head on a swivel to avoid a talented pass rush that includes Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr.

Week 10: at Utah (L)

Like Washington State, the 2-time defending Pac-12 champion has owned the Sun Devils in recent years. Although Arizona State has a 22-11 lifetime edge, the Utes have won 5-of-7, including 3 straight. Utah is heavily favored to win once more, with ESPN’s FPI giving ASU just an 8.8% chance to pull off the upset.

The matchup could come down to the Utes’ health, as Cam Rising’s return from a torn ACL has him on shaky status entering the year.

Week 11: at UCLA (W)

UCLA owns the 23-15 overall advantage, but the series has been tight as of late, with each team winning 5 of the past 10. Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins lit up the Sun Devils last year, 50-36, one year after ASU won, 42-23.

But this is a very different UCLA team. DTR is off to the Cleveland Browns and Zach Charbonnet is gone as well. The Bruins should be fine in the ground game, but things might get a little shaky with true freshman quarterback Dante Moore at the helm. While ESPN’s FPI projections greatly favor UCLA, to the tune of a 78.2-21.8 advantage, I’m picking the Sun Devils.

Week 12: vs. Oregon (L)

Oregon sports a surprisingly slim advantage, 20-18, in the series, with most of those wins unsurprisingly coming in recent years. Since 2005, Oregon has won 11-of-13, but ASU won the last round in 2019, 31-28.

This one will be especially fun, as it represents the first matchup between Dillingham and Nix.

Week 13: vs. Arizona (L)

One of the game’s great rivalries, you can just about toss out any expectations when these teams meet. Each team has regularly played spoiler against the other, with Arizona claiming a 50-45 lifetime edge and a win in the most recent Territorial Cup, a 38-35 victory last year.

You want even? ESPN’s FPI gives ASU the slight edge, 52.2-to-47.8.

I’m taking the Cats go to back-to-back after snapping a 5-game skid against the Sun Devils last year. Will Michael Wiley top the 200-yard mark for Arizona again? Probably not. But ASU would be wise to focus on shutting him down.

2023 Projection: 3-9 (2-7)


The Sun Devils are in for an interesting year as Dillingham takes over. Like Colorado, an almost complete teardown took place over the offseason, and given the transfer exodus a year prior in the face of looming sanctions, ASU is almost unrecognizable from two years ago.

That might not be a bad thing.