Here is an early look at the New Mexico Lobos out-of-conference schedule with an examination of each opponent in-depth to give you a better feel for who UNM is going up against. This preview takes a look at the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Arizona State is looking to take the next step and become a Pac-12 program - like Oregon and USC - to fear. The 2014 Sun Devils went 10-3 and earned a bowl game victory. With a redshirt senior at quarterback, who has big game experience, and a defense that looks to not be a pushover, ASU seeks to get itself a place at the table of college football significance.
Head Coach: Todd Graham's in his fourth year at ASU and has posted a 28-12 record. Graham has revitalized Sparky and ASU faithful in the Valley of the Sun are sniffing roses for the first time since the Jake Plummer era. After winning the 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year, and in what was supposed to be a rebuilding 2014 term, Graham led the Sun Devils to ten-win season. Prior to coaching at ASU, Graham had coaching positions at several other institutions (in reverse chronological order): Pittsburgh ‘11, (HC), Tulsa ‘07-‘10, (HC), Rice 02'-06, (Head Coach), Tulsa ‘03-‘05, (Assistant Head Coach and DC), West Virginia: (‘01-‘02, Co-DC), East Central University: ‘91-‘93, (Defensive Coordinator).
Location: Tempe, Ariz.
Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium Capacity: 71,706
Mascot: Sparky the Sun Devil. Sparky, who was developed and debuted in 1955, is one of college athletics most popular and recognizable mascots. The Arizona State University communication guide says Sparky is to reflect the energy and enthusiasm of the institution. Sparky is always striking fear in his opponent's and holding his infamous golden pitchfork.
2014 Record: 10-3.
Bowl game: Hyundai Sun Bowl, 36-31 win over the Duke Blue Devils.
Five Key Players:
Mike Bercovici, quarterback: Bercovici, the product of Calabasas, Calif., enters the 2015 season as a redshirt senior and will - although it's almost guaranteed he'll be named the starter by Graham - be competing for the starting quarterback job. Bercovici did an outstanding job at times in 2014. He stepped in for injured, and Heisman Trophy candidate, Taylor Kelly on several instances. He started three games in absence of the sidelined Kelly and his most notable performance of 2014: a five-touchdown pass affair against Southern California which included a walk-off, 46-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to wide receiver Jalen Strong.
It cultivated a Sun Devil defeat of the Trojans, 38-34 in Los Angeles on Oct. 5, 2014. Although Kelly presented more of threat to run the ball as a quarterback, the Sun Devil offense could show more balance and a pro-style offense in the backfield with it's running backs. Bercovici capped 2014 with 1,478 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also treats his offensive line to In-N-Out Burger for the job they do protecting him.
(ASU walk-off over USC)
D.J. Foster, wide receiver: It'll be a year of transition for the senior. After rushing for 1,081 yards on 194 attempts and scoring nine touchdowns as a running back in 2014, Foster is converting to wide receiver. Foster is the only active FBS player to have 1,500 rushing and receiving yards. Foster is also durable, as he has played in 40 games as a Sun Devil and has never missed a game in his career at Arizona State.
Kalen Ballage, running back: Ballage had an outstanding spring football season for the Sun Devils and the coaching staff is hoping he can live up the physicality at the position in 2015. The four-star high school recruit is 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds and rushed for nearly 150 yards in 2014. Ballage had a 96-yard kick return to the opponent's four-yard line in ASU's 2014 Sun Bowl victory over the Duke Blue Devils. He has signs of quickness to add to his bruising power.
Jordan Simone: A Washington State transfer that redshirted in 2013, Simone has noted that the ASU program saved his collegiate career. It's turned Simone into a feared member of the ASU secondary. The Sun Devil defensive-coaching staff has turned him into a ball hawk. Simone was the second-leading tackler (100 tackles, 4.5 for a loss) in 2014 for the Sun Devil defense. Simone is one of two returning starters for ASU in 2015, which will be a huge task for the young squad.
Salamo Fiso, inside linebacker: The linebacker had a solid sophomore season and has established him as one of the most experienced players on the defense behind Simone. Last season, Fiso had 83 tackles and 11 for a loss. However, with Fiso's experience, he will be tested in the Sun Devil training camp because of the depth and talent ASU has at the middle linebacking position.
Offensive overview: Be explosive! And it shouldn't be too hard for Bercovici and the Sun Devil offense to continue its dominance from 2014. Arizona State was 17th in total overall points in the country in 2014 (36.9 points per game and 33rd in passing yards per game with 273.5).
Defensive preview: Graham's mentality is hit the quarterback first. ASU has been successfully in disrupting opponent's passing games. The Sun Devils were top-15 in the nation in sacks and tackles for loss in 2014. However, Arizona State gave up almost 30 plays of over 30-plus yards. If Arizona State can consistently pressure quarterbacks and keep offenses' big plays to a minimum the fork will be something to cause distress in 2015.
Early Prediction: ASU 56, UNM 21