The last time the Arizona State Sun Devils took the field, they left holding up the Sun Bowl trophy after a 36-31 victory over the Duke Blue Devils in December.
Since then, they have been working hard to get back into the spot light they possessed for a majority of the 2014 season. At one point, the Sun Devils were ranked 6th in the nation. They started the year off winning eight of their first nine games. To finish that stretch, ASU stomped Notre Dame 55-31.
The following week, things started to tip the other way. A shocking 35-27 loss to the Oregon State Beavers sunk the Sun Devils and eliminated them from playoff contention with just two weeks left in the regular season.
They went on to lose to the Arizona Wildcats in the Territorial Cup game to finish the regular season 9-3.
But their season defining game had to have been the Sun Bowl, a game in which ASU finished on top to wrap up their second consecutive season with 10 wins.
Head Coach Todd Graham said after the Sun Bowl victory that the Sun Devils weren’t going to finish the season any other way. He said his team was going to finish as champions.
And that’s the mentality Graham’s team carried into the off season. It’s a mentality was established almost immediately after Graham’s arrival four years ago.
We’ve seen ASU grow into one of the more competitive teams in college football under Graham’s leadership. Last year, they were a surprise heading into the final weeks of the season.
This year, that talent is expected.
The 2015 Sun Devils begin the season ranked 15th, the highest ranking to start the season since 2008. They are projected to be one of the top four teams in college football by many top analysts, including ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit.
Herbstreit picked the Sun Devils to make the playoffs, but not as the winners of the National Championship.
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Ask Graham or any of his players at ASU and they’ll say Herbstreit is wrong. They’ll tell you that their only goal this season is to bring a National Championship to Tempe.
That journey starts Saturday against the Texas A&M Aggies. Normally, ranked teams face off against smaller schools in the first few weeks of the season, but ASU wasn’t given such a task. They’re expected to hit the ground running with little room for error.
As a few of our Heat Waved writers mentioned last week, the Sun Devils have to go undefeated in order to make the top four. It’s a quest that is very difficult, especially against PAC-12 schools, but possible.
The Aggies won’t make it easy on ASU though. A&M is coming off an 8-5 season after going 3-5 in SEC play. Paralleled to the Sun Devils, the Aggies also finished their season with a bowl victory. They defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Liberty Bowl 45-37.
Despite all of that, the Aggies weren’t ranked to start the season. It’s fair to say they’ll probably come into Saturday’s contest with a little chip on their shoulder.
If the Sun Devils are going to be the team everyone is hyping them up to be, they’ll take care of business in week one so they can return to Tempe with a victory under their belts for their home opener.
First things first though – a showdown in the Lone Star State. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. MST on ESPN.