Football Fast Forward: Arizona State
The Pac-12 Networks launch August 15 and will broadcast at least one game from all 12 teams in our first month of football. We can't wait -- each school's Networks debut game is previewed here, with an assist from SB Nation. See if you will get Pac-12 Networks from your TV provider by visiting the Pac-12 Networks Channel Finder. Answers to frequently asked questions are at support.pac-12.org.
By Brad Denny, House Of Sparky
Salvation is nigh, college football fans. The 2012 season will kick off on Thursday, August 30, and that evening Arizona State will be hosting in-state rival Northern Arizona. The game marks the Sun Devils' Pac-12 Networks debut [7:30 p.m. PT].
As with most early-season FBS-versus-FCS games, the end result is hardly in question; the Sun Devils should walk away from this game at 1-0. Yet there are still several interesting plotlines to watch for in this match-up.
Since taking over as head coach in December, Todd Graham has revamped the entire Sun Devil program both on and off the field. This game will provide an early look at his progress on a major stage, and give some clues as to where ASU will fit in a crowded Pac-12 South.
Let's take a four-down look at the key factors for this Grand Canyon State battle:
1st Down - Start Your Engines
Since his arrival in December, Graham has preached a "high octane" approach to just about everything, both on and off-field. While the off-field efforts have resulted in renewed fan confidence and key successes in recruiting, the first examples on the gridiron will come against NAU. Offensively, the major change will be the unit's pace. The Sun Devils are trying to emulate Oregon with their speed in order to dictate the tempo, with a lofty goal of 80 plays per game. On the other side of the ball, the bland 4-3 look of recent years gives way to a much more aggressive and attacking scheme that will feature multiple sets. While there will certainly be kinks to work out, it should provide an exciting glimpse into the team's future.
2nd Down - Fifth In Five
Continuing one of the more dubious streaks in the conference, Arizona State will be opening the season with a new starting quarterback for the fifth straight year. Brock Osweiler's departure for the NFL opened up a three-player competition for the job that has continued into fall camp. While each player is talented and offers something different—Michael Eubank is a powerful runner and has the most long-term upside, Mike Bercovici a talented passer, and Taylor Kelly a mix of the three—none has any extensive game experience. Whoever gets the nod against NAU may not be there for too long, as Graham has repeatedly said that using a two-quarterback system is a distinct possibility.
3rd Down - Discipline Devils
120th, 114th and 120th. Those are ASU's national ranks among the 120 FBS teams in penalty yards per game since 2009. Since his introductory press conference, Graham has preached and practiced discipline in every facet of the program. With a team that figures to be in a number of close contests this year, the Sun Devils cannot afford to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, and that process begins against NAU.
4th Down - Momentum Building
While this is the first official game on their 2012 schedule, this contest should ideally represent a glorified scrimmage for the Sun Devils. While NAU does bring back key offensive weapons in running back Zach Bauman and quarterback Cary Grossart, the Lumberjacks were just a 4-7 team a season ago and—on paper—are no match for ASU. However, NAU has historically played ASU very tough in recent meetings, and ASU will need to avoid getting caught looking ahead. A dominant showing on opening night will give the Sun Devils confidence heading into their upcoming battles against Illinois and Missouri. Conversely, a hard-fought win will put a significant damper on the excitement the program has generated over the offseason.