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ASU Football Opponent Primer: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Biggest non-conference matchup of the Herm era?

Syndication: The Oklahoman Nathan J. Fish/The Oklahoman / USA TODAY NETWORK

ASU’s 2022 Football Schedule

9/1: vs. NAU

9/10: @ #12 Oklahoma State

9/17: vs. Eastern Michigan

9/24: vs. #7 Utah

10/1: @ #14 USC

10/8: vs. Washington

10/22: @ Stanford

10/29: @ Colorado

11/5: vs. UCLA

11/12: @ Washington State

11/19: vs. Oregon State

11/25: @ Arizona

The matchup

The last time the Arizona State Sun Devils played in the state of Arizona, they beat the lowly Arizona Wildcats.

The last time the Oklahoma State Cowboys played in Arizona, they overcame a 14-point halftime deficit, defeating Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, their first New Year’s Six win since 2011.

While the week two matchup between the two will take place in Stillwater, the circumstances of their 2021-2022 finale’s linger into this fall.

The Devils and Cowboys are programs headed in opposite directions. The Sun Devils are in the midst of an NCAA investigation, and are led by a coach on the hot seat, and a quarterback who got beat out at his previous school.

The Cowboys are led by one of the most respected (and entertaining) men in college football in Mike Gundy, and are coming off a 12-2 season where they finished the year as the seventh-ranked team in college football, and were inches away from a spot in the college football playoff. This year, Gundy’s squad enters the year ranked no. 7 in the nation.

Key Returners

For starters, the Cowboys return seven of them on the offensive side of the ball, none more important than quarterback Spencer Sanders. Sanders, who was responsible for 496 total yards and four touchdowns in the Pokes Fiesta Bowl win, returns for his fourth season in Stillwater.

On the defensive side of the ball, the unanimous Big-12 Defensive Freshman of the year Collin Oliver will anchor a defense that was one of the nation’s best after racking up 11.5 sacks in 2021. In the secondary, Jason Taylor II came back for his senior season. Both Taylor and Oliver are on the preseason All-Big 12 team.

Key Losses

While Oliver and Taylor are enough to strike fear into the heart of any team in college football, the loss of linebackers and team captains Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper is significant. Rodriguez, a day three selection of the Detroit Lions in the 2022 NFL Draft and member of the 2021 All-Big 12 team, led the conference in tackles last season with 129. Harper, one of the longest tenured members of the Cowboys program last season, was an All-Big 12 honorable mention and appeared in 52 games over his collegiate career.

Junior Mason Cobb is the lone linebacker returning who has started a game for the Cowboys. Cobb will be paired in the starting lineup with JUCO transfer Xavier Benson, who started his career at Texas Tech before playing at Tyler Junior College in 2021. Benson has appeared in 25 games over his collegiate career, and led the NJCAA in tackles last season with 120.

Reasons why ASU could win

After an early exodus of talent, Edwards and company maneuvered the portal and revamped a roster that looked like it was left for dead in March. The addition of quarterback Emory Jones gives the Sun Devils a legitimate weapon. Jones’s mobility and ability to improvise and create plays will give a new look line some breathing room in the passing game.

Jones appeared in 13 games at Florida last year and accumulated over 3,000 all-purpose yards. The addition of Xazavian Valladay and the return of Daniyel Ngata gives offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas a viable backfield with plenty of experience. On the defensive side of the ball, transfers Ro Torrence, Khoury Bethley and Chris Edmonds make up a versatile secondary with length, size and speed.

Reasons why ASU could lose

Despite efforts by Edwards, the Sun Devils experienced more change in one off-season than most programs do in four years. Not only does Edwards have 14 incoming transfers, one of which is his new starting quarterback, he also has two first year coordinators in Thomas and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson.

Wherever the Sun Devils are right now, Oklahoma State is the near opposite.

Gundy’s program returns 12 starters, and while Gundy lost defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to Ohio State, he moved quickly and replaced Knowles with former Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason.

To call a spade a spade, Oklahoma State has more continuity, better talent, and is better coached than ASU. Additionally, Stillwater has become one of the more hostile places to play in college football. ASU is a program in flux, and Oklahoma State is a program that is a legitimate contender to win the Big-12 and earn a New Years’ Six bid. The Devils will face an uphill climb in week two.