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ASU Football: Examining how the Sun Devils haven’t lost a home opener in nearly two decades

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Through many changes over the years, one thing has stayed the constant: winning home game one.

Nebraska V Arizona State

It’s been 18 years, the Sun Devils have sent 51 players to the NFL, performed in 12 bowl games and muscled through four different coaches. And yet, Arizona State still hasn’t lost a home opener.

With 18 consecutive home opener wins in a row, the Sun Devils own the fifth-longest active streak in the nation, according to Sun Devils Athletics.

Arizona State fits in the ranks right behind Florida (27), Wisconsin (21), Oklahoma State (21) and Illinois (19). The Sun Devils are locked with Michigan State (18) at fifth, and sit in front of Texas (17), Arizona (16), Boise State (15) and TCU (15).

The last time the Sun Devils dropped a home opener was Sept. 5, 1998 against the then-No. 8 Washington Huskies in a 42-38 loss before a packed house of 72,118 fans.

Arizona State’s 18-year home opener win streak

Date Opponent Score Attendance End of year record Bowl Game Result
Date Opponent Score Attendance End of year record Bowl Game Result
Sept. 6, 1999 Texas Tech 31-13 65,091 6-6 (5-3 Pac-10) Aloha 3-23 loss to Wake Forest
Sept. 16, 2000 Colorado State 13–10 51,911 6-6 (3-5 Pac-10) Aloha 17-31 loss to Boston College
Sept. 8, 2001 San Diego State 38–7 54,071 4-7 (1-7 Pac-10)
Aug. 31, 2002 Eastern Washington 38-2 39,581 8-6 (5-3 Pac-10) Holiday 27-34 loss to Kansas State
Sept. 6, 2003 Northern Arizona 34-14 60,069 5-7 (2-6 Pac-10)
Sept. 2, 2004 UTEP 49-9 57,528 9-3 (5-3 Pac-10) Sun 27-23 win over Purdue
Sept. 1, 2005 Temple 63-16 50,049 7-5 (4-4 Pac-10) Insight 45-40 win over Rutgers
Aug. 31, 2006 Northern Arizona 35-14 53,540 7-6 (4-5 Pac-10) Hawaii 41-24 loss to Hawaii
Sept. 1, 2007 San Jose State 45–3 54,405 10-3 (7-2 Pac-10) Holiday 34-52 loss to Texas
Aug. 30 Northern Arizona 30-13 62,707 5-7 (4-5 Pac-10)
Sept. 5, 2009 Idaho State 50-3 42,588 4-8 (2-7 Pac-10)
Sept. 4, 2010 Portland State 59-4 43,238 6-6 (4-5 Pac-12)
Sept. 1, 2011 UC Davis 48–14 45,671 6-7 (4-5 Pac-12) Maaco 56-24 loss to Boise State
Sept. 2, 2012 Northern Arizona 63–6 48,658 8-5 (5-4 Pac-12) Kraft Fight Hunger 62-28 win over Navy
Sept. 5, 2013 Sacramento State 55–0 55,743 10-4 (8-1 Pac-12) Holiday 23-37 loss to Texas Tech
Aug. 28, 2014 Weber State 45–14 52,133 10-3 (6-3 Pac-12) Sun 36-31 win over Duke
Sept. 12, 2015 Cal Poly 35–21 46,500 6-7 (4-5 Pac-12) Cactus 42-43 loss to West Virginia
Sept. 3, 2016 Northern Arizona 44–13 45,300 5-7 (2-7 Pac-12)

The Sun Devils are ranked in the top-5 nationally for this achievement, but how notable really is it? We analyze the ins and outs of the streak.

FCS Crazy: Easy Opponents Make For Scripted Start

Head coach Todd Graham is 6-0 in his first six home openers in Tempe, but has yet to play a team outside of the Football Championship Subdivision in a home opener. In fact, the last nine home openers the Sun Devils have competed in have been against teams from the same conference, the FCS’s Big Sky Conference. In Arizona State’s last home opener victory against a team in NCAA Division I-A, it was a 45-3 whooping over San Jose State of the Mountain West. ASU’s last home opener win over a Power Five opponent was a 35-13 victory over Texas Tech in 1999.

While 12 of Arizona State’s last 18 home opening wins have come against FCS opponents, lower division teams have actually given quite the scare in recent history. It’s hard to forget Application State (then NCAA Division I-AA) beating Michigan before 109,000 fans at the “Big House” in 2007. North Dakota State beat Iowa in 2016 and James Madison defeated Virginia Tech in 2010. Most recently and in the Pac-12, Washington State fell to the Big Sky’s Eastern Washington 45-42 in 2016 and dropped its home opener to Portland State 24-17 in 2015. In doing so, the Cougars ended up bowl eligible in both seasons with eight or more wins.

Do Guaranteed Wins Equal Guaranteed Fans?

Since Arizona State’s 42-28 loss to Washington State in 1998 in front of 72,000 in attendance, the Sun Devils have came nowhere near that total. Seriously, ASU can’t even fit over 60,000 seated fans in its stadium anymore. In the last 18 seasons, the Sun Devils earned an average of 51,599 fans per home opener and have seen almost 20,000 seats shaved off Sun Devil stadium. In 1999, Sun Devil Stadium boasted 73,379 seats. After years of renovations, Sun Devil Stadium has dwindled down to a capacity of 56,232. Last season, the Sun Devils owned a home average of 47,736 people in the stands per game.

In facing games against FCS opponents, just about the only buzz other than that it is the first home game of the season, is that ASU may face an in-state program, like NAU. But this season, the Sun Devils face the Division I-A New Mexico State Aggies of the Sun Belt Conference who arrived in 1999 in front of 56,728 fans at Sun Devil Stadium. On a Thursday night in upper 90 to 100-degree heat, over 50,000 in attendance may be too generous. The Sun Devils have earned over 50,000 at a home opener just twice in the last eight years with both being during Arizona State’s back-to-back 10-win seasons.

Where the Sun Devils Rank

Fitting right near Florida (27), Wisconsin (21) and Oklahoma State (21) puts Arizona State in a pretty big chair. If it even appears odd for the Sun Devils to be on even this list, think twice and know that Illinois (19) is in front of ASU. Much like the Sun Devils, the Fighting Illini have played frenzy of FCS teams, but in recent years, they’ve beaten NCAA Division I-A Kent State, Arkansas State and Western Michigan in home openers since 2012.

Florida leads the nation in season-opening wins in general with 27 in a row. Wisconsin has played LSU twice and Alabama once to start the season since 2014, but each of those games have been at neutral sites. The Badgers have stuck to the likes of Akron, Western Illinois and UMass over the past three home openers.