After a long, anxious offseason full of coaching turnover and position battles, game week is finally here for the 2016 Arizona State Sun Devils. The regular season begins this Saturday against Northern Arizona - a formidable FCS opponent coming out of the Big Sky. Here is your first look at the Lumberjacks.
Head Coach - Jerome Souers
After serving as defensive coordinator with Montana for nine seasons, Souers was named the head coach of Northern Arizona back in 1998. It's a position that he has held ever since.
Souers has posted a 107-97 record in his time in Flagstaff, taking his team to the postseason four times.
The Lumberjacks will run a pro-style, no-huddle scheme offensively for a second straight season. On defense, where Souers' teams have traditionally shined, Northern Arizona will throw a lot of Cover 3 and Cover 4 looks at Arizona State.
Souers and company finished the 2015 season with a record of 7-4, with all three of their losses against FCS opponents coming by two possessions or less.
Quarterback Case Cookus is back from that team, as is their top receiver and second-leading rusher in the ground game. That high-powered offense figures to be just as explosive again this season, which is a big reason why the Lumberjacks were voted 18th in the preseason FCS Coaches' Poll.
Quarterback - Case Cookus
Things couldn't have gone much better for Cookus in his freshman campaign a year ago. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound quarterback threw for 37 touchdowns and ran for three more, earning him the honor of being named the FCS STATS Freshman of the Year.
His best game came in a 63-21 victory on Halloween against Northern Colorado, in which Cookus threw for seven touchdowns and 363 yards. He has played just one contest against an FBS opponent - last September at Arizona - in which he completed eight of 13 passes before sitting out the second half of the blowout win for the Wildcats.
Key Defensive Players
Linebacker Jake Thomas - Thomas led Northern Arizona in sacks a season ago, posting four and a half to go along with 68 total tackles. The senior from Mesa figures to lead Souers' defense in 2016 and will definitely be a player to watch on Saturday as he returns to the Valley.
Cornerback Maurice Davison - The young Lumberjacks secondary should be bolstered by sophomore corner Maurice Davison, who was tied for second on the team in his freshman campaign with five pass breakups despite only playing in 11 games.