Weber State Wildcats (0-0) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (0-0)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. MST/10:30 p.m. EST
Location: Tempe, Arizona - Sun Devil Stadium
Television: Pac-12 Networks (Roxy Bernstein, Yogi Roth, Ashley Adamson)
Radio: Arizona Sports 92.3 FM/Sirus 139 (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Doug Franz)
Weather Report: High of 104 degrees that day and a low of 78. Should be around 95 degrees at kickoff.
What to wear: The team will be in the traditional maroon and gold so wear gold to the game.
Series History: First meeting between schools
Weber State in 2013: The Wildcats were one of the worst teams in the Big Sky Conference last season, going just 2-10. The Wildcats were 0-7 on the road, leading to the firing of head coach Jody Sears. The man at the helm of the Wildcats now is Jay Hill, who spent the previous 13 seasons as an assistant coach for Utah.
The Wildcats return 36 players off last year's squad and have added eight FBS transfers in the offseason. Weber State was pretty anemic on both sides of the ball last year, averaging just 15.8 points per game while allowing 41.4. The Wildcats gave up an average of 242.2 yards per game on the ground last season.
The opener against Arizona State marks just the second time the Wildcats have played a Pac-12 team and the Sun Devils are just the fifth Power Five team that the Weber State has played. In their 52-year football history, the Wildcats have only played three FBS ranked opponents.
Arizona State on offense: The Sun Devils return redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly, who completed 62.4 percent of his passes in 2013 while throwing for 3,635 yards and 28 touchdowns. Kelly is entering his third season at the helm of the Arizona State offense and offers the perfect combination of speed and accuracy to run Mike Norvell's offense.
DJ Foster returns to lead the running backs after averaging 5.4 yards per carry in 2013. Foster only carried the ball 93 times last season, juggling slot receiver duties with his role in the backfield. This year, Foster is the starting running back and will be counted on for the majority of the carries in 2014.
Redshirt seniors Kyle Middlebrooks and Deantre Lewis provide depth at the position and freshman Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage should see plenty of carries in their first years in Tempe.
"What I would like to see us do is really run the football. In order to be a championship caliber football team we need to make sure that we can really run the ball well," said head coach Todd Graham. "We have developed our offensive line now, our center and our two guards are strong, Vi (Teofilo), (Christian) Westerman and Nick Kelly at center, so I think we are going to be a power zone team down there, and we need to be able to be satisfied with four yards, that's a good first play, so we need to have that mindset."
All-conference performer Jaelen Strong returns after an impressive debut in 2013. Strong caught 75 passes last season for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns. This season, he has his sights set on Shaun McDonald's single-season receiving record of 1,405 yards.
The receivers behind Strong are unproven and the first few games could see a receiver-by-committee approach to see who sticks. Expect Gary Chambers, Cameron Smith, Frederick Gammage, Jalen Harvey, Eric Lauderdale and Ronald Lewis to see playing time in the first few games of the season.
"We are moving faster," said Graham about his offense. "We run a fast-paced, no-huddle, run ‘n gun offense, not fast-pace, no-huddle pass. When you are running the ball, the clock runs. Time of possession doesn't matter; it's how many snaps you take. We want to keep those snaps under 70. It takes experience to be able to go fast."
WR Jaelen Strong vs. CB Deon'Tae Florence: The Weber State pass defense was actually not atrocious last year, as they allowed just 233.6 yards per game, about one yard fewer than the Sun Devils allowed last year. Florence leads the Wildcat secondary that will start two sophomores on Thursday. He earned honorable mention all-conference honors last season and was the only Weber State player to be named to the Big Sky Preseason team. Strong should not have a problem, but Florence is the best defensive player that Weber State has.
LG Christian Westerman vs. DT Connor Myers/Jake Gallegos: Westerman came in and immediately established himself as the starter at left guard, pushing Jamil Douglas out to left tackle. Westerman is Arizona State's strongest lineman and he should be dominate in the running game this season. However, the Hamilton High alum has not played in a college football game in over a year. Westerman should not have any trouble against whoever lines up against him, but he may show some rust.
Arizona State on defense: The Sun Devils must replace nine starters on the defensive side of the football, including two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton. Besides No. 90, the Sun Devils also have to replace Carl Bradford and three all-conference performers in the secondary.
The starting defensive line will be composed of Jaxon Hood, Tashon Smallwood and Marcus Hardison. Salamo Fiso (SAM) returns as the only starter from 2013 in the front seven. Fiso is joined in the linebacking corps by Laiu Moeakiola (SPUR), D.J. Calhoun (WILL) and Edmond Boateng (DEVIL).
"I think Edmond (Boateng) is a guy who has really helped us because that position (DEVIL) looks a lot different than it did last year," Graham said. "He's emerging as a player in that position who is really allowing us to do more of what we did last year. Antonio (Longino) has really stepped up his game. Obviously, De'Marieya (Nelson) gives us some versatility there, and he'll play as many snaps as he can, but I feel really good and think that a strong point for us right now is the Devilbacker position."
In the secondary, Lloyd Carrington and Damarious Randall have solidified starting spots. Soloman Means, Armand Perry and Kweishi Brown are all competing for the second corner position. Means will get the start against Weber State but the newcomers Perry and Brown are hot on his heels.
Jordan Simone and Marcus Ball are competing to start opposite of Randall at the boundary safety position. Ball has been in-and-out of a non-contact jersey during most of Fall camp and Simone, the former walk-on, has been impressive.
QB Billy Green vs. ASU Secondary: Green spent last season at BYU and transferred in with the new coaching staff. His main targets are Cameron Livingston, Shaydon Kehano and freshman Drew Batchelor. Weber State is likely to get down early, meaning Green will be throwing a lot in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. It will be a good chance for the new Arizona State secondary to get reps ahead of looming matchups with Colorado and UCLA.
OG Joe Hawkins/Cameron Young vs. DT Tashon Smallwood/Jaxon Hood: Graham cannot stop raving about Smallwood, calling him the best freshman he has ever had. Hood missed half of preseason camp with a personal issue and is still trying to work himself back into football shape. Young and Hawkins are 310 and 315 pounds respectively, and Weber State's offensive line averages 300 pounds.
The Final Breakdown
There are several really good FCS teams. Several teams such as Eastern Washington, North Dakota State and Sam Houston State that could give a FBS team a challenge in the opening game of the season. Weber State is not one of those teams. They have a new quarterback, a new coach and one of their best defensive player, linebacker Luke King, has missed a substantial amount of preseason camp with an injury.
The Sun Devils should have no problem with the Wildcats, and Arizona State should win this game by around 50 points. Graham and his coaching staff do not let their players overlook lower caliber teams. The Sun Devils will be ready to play, with a lot of young players looking to make a name for themselves in the opening game of the season.
Look for the Sun Devils to score early and often while the defense flies around and creates havoc against a new offense.
Prediction: Arizona State 70, Weber State 7