The Sacramento State Hornets saw their upset bid crushed by the San Jose Spartans on Thursday, but they'll have another opportunity to make a splash when they come to Tempe this week to take on the Sun Devils.
The Hornets are an FCS team, but if this weekend in college football has taught us one thing, it's that no team is untouchable.
Sacramento State is 2-0 against Pac-12 opponents in the past two seasons. And with the rise of FCS teams in week one, the plot thickens as the Hornets prepare to descend into the valley.
So do the Hornets really have a chance at toppling the Sun Devils? Let's find out.
The First Look
2012 Record: 6-5 (4-4 in Big Sky)
The Hornets finished tied for 5th in the 13-team Big Sky conference last season. After losing the season opener 49-19 against New Mexico State, Sacramento State rebounded with a 30-28 win over Pac-12 foe Colorado. The victory marked the second consecutive season the Hornets found themselves in national headlines as they took down Oregon State 29-28 in 2011.
Over the past two seasons, the victories over FBS opponents have proved to be aberrations. The Hornets finished 3-5 in conference play in 2011 and followed that up with a 4-4 record last season. Sacramento State had a chance to climb up the Big Sky ranks, but the Hornets dropped three of their final four contests including a 31-28 game at Co-Big Sky Champion Eastern Washington.
2013 Record: 0-1 (0-0 in Big Sky)
The Hornets opened their season on Thursday night against San Jose State and struggled in a 24-0 defeat. The Spartans are not quite on the national radar, but they do boast one of the nation's best quarterbacks in David Fales and have been on an upswing in the past few years.
Sacramento State had difficulty on offense as the Hornets managed just 278 total yards and only 86 yards on the ground. Defensively, the Hornets surrendered 367 yards against a balanced Spartan attack. Holding San Jose State to just 24 points says a lot about the Hornets' defense as the Spartans averaged 34.8 points per game last year.
Arizona State has a definitive edge talent-wise compared to San Jose State, but the Hornets proved last season that they were capable of scoring an upset after a first week loss.
Head Coach: Marshall Sperbeck (7th Season at Sacramento State)
Career Record: 139-90
At Sacramento State: 30-36
Quarterback Garrett Safron: Safron enters his second full season as the Hornets' starting quarterback after bringing home Honorable Mention All-Conference honors last year. After throwing for 22 touchdowns and nearly 2,500 yards last season, Safron tossed for 192 yards against the Spartans, but he also threw two interceptions and struggled with his accuracy. The Hornets threw the ball 40 times, so they clearly think highly of Safron's ability as a passer.
Running Back Ezekiel Graham: Sacramento State's version of D.J. Foster is a multi-purpose threat who will start in the backfield and split wide when they need him too. Graham joined Safron on the Honorable Mention All-Conference list after rushing for 861 yards last year. The Hornets hope he'll be able to rebound after running 18 times for just 49 yards on Thursday.
Wide Receiver Morris Norrise: Norrise is Safron's No. 1 option on the outside and the pair developed their chemistry last season. Norrise reeled in 60 catches, 777 yards and seven touchdowns en route to an All-Second Team Big Sky selection. Against San Jose State, Norrise only had four catches but that was enough to lead the team.
Linebacker Russell Smith: Todd Davis is the Hornets' best defender, but we'll have our eyes on true freshman Russell Smith who will face the toughest test of the season in just his second career start. The Sun Devils will target Smith and much of the Hornets' defensive success will rely on how he responds.
Can Sacramento State Give the Sun Devils A Run For Their Money?
Can they? Absolutely. Will they? Likely not. Even with all the upsets we've seen in the first week of college football, it would be shocking to see the Hornets hang with the Sun Devils until the end. Eastern Washington needed to play exceptionally well to upset Oregon State and the Swoops finished atop the Big Sky last season. Sacramento State was a middle of the pack team in the Big Sky last season, and although they should be improved this season, Arizona State holds a massive advantage in every aspect of the game.
The bottom line is that if Sacramento State failed to score against San Jose State, then there's no reason the Sun Devil defense shouldn't have a field day against the Hornets.