Rather than facing off against FCS Northern Arizona or highly-talented Texas A&M, the Sun Devils will open up their 2017 campaign against lowly-rated, but NCAA Division I New Mexico State of the Sun Belt Conference.
New Mexico State’s 2016 season
The Aggies captured three wins last season. While nine losses overshadowed the outcome of the season, the Aggies beat in-state rival New Mexico who finished last season 9-4 overall, downed bowl-eligible Louisiana-Lafayette and trounced Texas State 50-10.
Two of the three NMSU wins were thrillers. After falling to UTEP in week one, the Aggies beat rival New Mexico 32-31 on a six-play scoring drive with five minutes left to win. New Mexico State’s next victory came three weeks later in a double overtime 37-31 win over ULL. The Aggies’ Larry Rose III fumbled just before the goal line and offensive lineman Sebastian Anderson recovered the ball and ran into the endzone to win.
After the double OT thriller, the Aggies were 2-3 and 1-1 in SBC play. Seven contests later and NMSU found itself 3-9.
RB Larry Rose III — With already two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 27 career touchdowns, Rose is expected to have an explosive senior season. Rose’s junior season was cut to just nine games after he had surgery for a sports hernia, but he still lead the Aggies with four 100-yard rushing games and 865 yards.
QB Tyler Rogers — The face of Aggie football is back in Las Cruses, New Mexico, for his redshirt senior season. Since being the starting quarterback in 2014, Rogers has thrown for 6,342 yards and 42 touchdowns. With a veteran quarterback and running back duo, the Aggies should have major strength in their offense.
SPUR Dalton Herrington — New Mexico State’s leading tackle returner is the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Herrington who totaled 47 solo tackles and 113 tackles altogether last season. At the SPUR position, Herrington shows his versatility, as he plays both defensive back and linebacker. With a sack and an interception each, Herrington earned a team-most two fumbles recovered.
WR/KR Gregory Hogan — This redshirt senior has returned kicks and caught over 300 yards each season for the Aggies since his redshirt freshman year in 2014. With already 1,000 receiving yards in the books, Hogan is poised for a huge 2017 season.
LB Rodney Butler — Butler was the nation’s leading tackle getter with 165 total and 113 assisted. He also returned an interception for a touchdown last season. Though the Aggies went 3-9, leading the nation in tackles is one impressive feat.
WR Tyrian Taylor — With its leading tackler already gone, the Aggies have also lost their best wide receiver. With a team-high 391 yards in 2016, he led New Mexico State in overall receiving yards.
Reason for optimism
The Sun Devils hold a 21-7-1 record all-time against the Aggies and held a 15-game win streak from 1939 to 1959. Arizona State’s most recent defeat came in 1997 when the Sun Devils won 41-10 in Tempe. The Sun Devils should win this game and should win it by at least four touchdowns. Arizona State is far superior than the Aggies who were predicted to finish third to the last in the Sun Belt Conference preseason media poll.
Reason for Pessimism
While the Sun Devils beat NAU 44-13 in last year’s season opener, Arizona State was only up 10-3 at halftime. In 2015, the Sun Devils were off to a slow start again in its home opener as ASU was tied 21-21 with Cal Poly after the third quarter. The Sun Devils then won the game by two touchdowns, 35-21.
*The last time the two faced off, Arizona State fell 35-7 at home against the Aggies in 1999.