In a few months, when Arizona State turns its calendar to November, it will have officially closed the book on what is arguably the most difficult four-game stretch the program has ever played. The Sun Devils will pay visit to USC and Washington, two teams they embarrassed in Tempe last year, and will play host to Stanford and UCLA, the two toughest teams on the schedule. This stretch of competition will most assuredly tell the story of the season, as Arizona State will either rise to the occasion or crumble and watch their season's prospects take a crushing blow.
But as soon as they flip that calendar to November, that four-game stretch from hell is over and Arizona State and its fans will look forward to what – comparatively – a less stressful game against Utah. The Utes finished with the same record (5-7) in 2013 as they did in 2012, but don't mistake their seasons as similar. Utah has long had a strong defense but lacked an offense to capitalize on that, but they made huge strides on that side of the ball in 2013. They lost a nail-biter in Salt Lake City last year to the Sun Devils, losing 20-19 in heartbreaking fashion. But the Utes have momentum from an improved season, and if Arizona State doesn't pay enough attention to preparing for these players, it could be a bumpy start to November.
Offense: Travis Wilson (6-foot-7, 240 pounds)
If you don't know of Wilson you definitely don't know the position he plays, because his body doesn't fit that of a typical signal-caller. With size like his, Wilson looks more like a tight end than a quarterback, but that's what he plays and he's slated to be the starter again for Utah. Another thing that you wouldn't guess from looking at him is how good, and terrible, he is as a quarterback. In 2013 he threw a touchdown in one of every 7.5 passes he threw, but he also threw an interception every 7.5 passes. He was sacked 17 times but averaged 7.4 per carry. Wilson had a game of 302 yards throwing and a game of 15 yards through the air.
While inconsistent, Wilson comes into 2014 with heightened confidence and added experience from his toils last season. Wilson has all of the tools to dominate but he has yet to put them all together.
Offense: Dres Anderson (6-foot-2, 190 pounds)
Anderson was a victim of the age-old problem of a wide receiver not having a consistent quarterback throwing to him, but he found a way to rack up 1002 yards receiving regardless. Anderson was targeted 105 times in 2013, pulling in 53 of them. He accounted for nearly 30 percent of the receiver targets, and was named an All Pac-12 Honorable Mention for his efforts last year. Anderson averaged 9.5 yards per catch and is counting on an improved Wilson in order to maintain his success. While the rest of Utah's receiving corps is unproven, Anderson is a major threat that will give the Sun Devil secondary fits.
Defense: Eric Rowe (6-foot-1, 201 pounds)
The Utah defense has consistently pumped out elite players, with Eric Weddle and Star Lotulelei as prime examples of the defensive talent that comes through Salt Lake City. Rowe is the next in line, as the senior-to-be has been producing at an elite level from the safety position since he arrived on campus. A Freshman All-American in 2011, Rowe is now a senior leader on the Utah defense and is listed as a starter at both the cornerback and free safety positions. Rowe has elite 40-yard speed of 4.39, allowing him to keep up with or track down offensive players from either defensive position he plays. Rowe is a reliable defender who can move around the field with ease, making him valuable to Utah and dangerous to Arizona State.