After two games against an opponent from the Big Sky and one from the Mountain West, finally Pac-12 play is here. Conference games are the ones that matter the most. Arizona State kicks off its conference slate this evening against the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder, so see what our staff is looking for tonight.
Justin Emerson: Managing Editor (@J15Emerson)
Nick Krueger: Managing Editor (@NickPKrueger)
Jason Galvin: Columnist (@Jason_Galvin)
Shane Theodore: Staff writer (@shane_writes)
Connor Pelton: Staff writer (@ConnorPelton28)
Pac-12 play starts with Colorado. Would you rather see Arizona State play this team to start conference play, or jump right into a tougher opponent?
Emerson: I'd like to see them face this team. It's just how the conference works, tat some teams are bad, and thankfully for the Sun Devils, they drew the worst team in the division right before the big boys start rolling in.
Krueger: This team needs this game. The defense remains inexperienced and even where their are returners at spots such as safety and Devilbacker, Todd Graham is still tinkering with his team. I believe you have to face great competition to improve and obviously improve your ranking and strength of schedule, but I don't think the Sun Devils could have asked for a better team to play as Colorado. They're a bottom half of the Pac-12 team, and one that certainly seems beatable this season. Liufau is a viable option at quarterback and Spruce is a more than capable wide receiver so this is a great preliminary conference game for this team.
Galvin: This team, and only because of circumstance. The defense needs all the time it can get against lesser opponents before the big dogs show up. After this week, the defense won't get a break for a long time.
Theodore: Colorado should be a team that you play later in the season when your team is tired and needs an easy win. To open the conference schedule with a cupcake team like Colorado makes the rest of the Arizona State's conference schedule absolutely brutal. Last year their first conference game was a blowout loss to Stanford, and when the Sun Devils played Colorado they were fresh off a prime-time loss to Notre Dame. They didn't lose another game in the regular season. Having a non-con team like New Mexico followed by a poor conference opponent in Colorado will give the Sun Devils an easy 3-0 record but oh boy, it sure gets tough from here on out.
Pelton: I think anytime you can start your schedule (whether it be nonconference or league play), the easier opponent the better. It allows you to work out any kinks you might have and gives you more freedom to experiment. In addition, the later you can play a marquee opponent, the better, since they probably won't be at full strength by November.
Is there anything about Colorado that should frighten Arizona State?
Emerson: Not really. Nelson Spruce is excellent of course, but even the best wide receivers need a quarterback to throw to them, and Sefo Liufau will have to throw a lot with the deficit, but he'll throw more interceptions than Spruce has touchdown receptions.
Krueger: Wide receiver Nelson Spruce obviously would be my main concern followed by Addison Gilliam on the defensive side of the ball. I'd like to see Taylor Kelly handle defensive pressure better on Saturday, his pocket presence and poise hasn't been up to snuff so far. I'll mention the altitude as well. Boulder is far from the most imposing atmosphere in the Pac-12, but the thin air might make the team a little more susceptible to getting tired quicker.
Galvin: They protect the quarterback, and the inexperience in the secondary could lead to lots of big plays through the air if the Sun Devils don't get any pressure on the quarterback all night.
Theodore: Heck, I don't know. Colorado was supposed to tout a strong defense and that hasn't come to fruition, and their offense isn't nearly up to par with Arizona State's. For the third week in a row, Arizona State should have a blowout victory.
Pelton: Nelson Spruce can definitely do some damage through the air and the weather and road night game should make things tough. Aside from those factors though, I am not very worried.
The Sun Devils had a poor defensive start against New Mexico, then locked it down in the second half. Which is the real Arizona State defense?
Emerson: I'm afraid it may be the first half. The defense looked lost out there, flustered by the triple-option, but to its credit turned it around in the best way in the second half. The problem is, bad teams are still putting points on the board, and UCLA, Stanford and USC might be able to score at will unless the unit improves quickly.
Krueger: An average of the two halves most likely. This is the first chance to see ASU against a decidedly average team that also runs a fairly logical and normal offensive scheme. The triple-option and an FCS team weren't great reads to see what this defense can do. I think the jury is out on this for at least another week.
Galvin: A little of both. That game is an anomaly in my mind. The triple-option gives you great tackling practice, but that's it. This game is more reflective of what the Sun Devils will see the rest of the season, so we will know more after the game.
Theodore: I wish I could tell you, but there isn't much to garner from playing a triple-option team that won three games in 2013. Todd Graham has made some changes and mixed and matched some players, and it's been effective, but we won't really know how good these guys are until they take on UCLA.
Pelton: I don't know. You'd hope it's the one that showed up for the final 30 minutes, which it very well could be. It might have been something as simple as coach Graham coming into the locker room and telling everyone to wake up and take care of business. Tonight's game should tell us more, but I don't think we'll truly know who this team is until the UCLA game.
What would you like to see out of the Sun Devils on Saturday?
Emerson: A win. Even an ugly wins puts the team at 3-0, with a bye week to prepare for UCLA. With the Bruins coming so early in the season, that's been the focus of all the media (myself included), not Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado. The team will be focused and playing its best football in two weeks against UCLA, and as long as the Sun Devils are 3-0, I'd be happy.
Krueger: A poor first half against New Mexico, a poor second half against Weber State. I would like to see a full game effort on defense and some good quarterback pressure from Tashon Smallwood and Marcus Hardison would be a positive sign as well.
Galvin: A 30-point win. Colorado lacks serious talent and any resemblance of a defense. This should be a complete game from start to finish.
Theodore: Continued development of the true freshmen running backs. Both Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard scored in the win at New Mexico, and Ballage's size and strength coupled with Richard's shiftiness is something to watch as they get better and earn more snaps.
Pelton: I would like to see the inexperienced Sun Devil secondary make some strides against an explosive quarterback like Sefo Liafau. Because if they struggle against him, Brett Hundley is going to have a field day.
Give me your final score prediction and one other prediction about the game.
Emerson: Arizona State 45, Colorado 20. D.J. Foster, Kalen Ballage and Taylor Kelly each tops 100 yards on the ground.
Krueger: Arizona State 41, Colorado 17. The Sun Devils will have at least two 100-yard rushers. D.J. Foster and either Kalen Ballage or Demario Richard.
Galvin: Arizona State 45, Colorado 24. The Sun Devils rack up 4 sacks in this one.
Theodore: Arizona State 45, Colorado 17. The Sun Devils pick off Sefo Liufau twice.
Pelton: Arizona State 42, Colorado 31. This one is over by the start of the fourth quarter, but a couple of late touchdowns for Colorado cover the spread.