We head down to the desert to conclude the first Thursday of the college football schedule in 2017. Arizona State will look to shake off a horrific 2016 and get back on track this year. The Sun Devils did not play the part and ultimately didn’t even qualify for a bowl game. Their rivals, the Arizona Wildcats, had a bad year as well. To add insult to injury to Arizona State, though, is that they were blown out by Arizona in the final game of the year.
The Sun Devils went on to lose their last six games of the season and finish with a record of 5-7 to lose out on a bowl by a game. The defense was particularly atrocious and the offense didn’t have the zip in it they’ve been known for. Yeah, Arizona State went fast with a no-huddle approach, but it didn’t seem to come together for them in 2017.
Arizona State will come back with a no-huddle offense, but I’d be surprised if there aren’t more pro-style elements to their game. The Sun Devils are welcoming a new offensive coordinator, former Alabama wide receiver coach Billy Napier. I expect, Napier, who is coming over from a program like Alabama will choose to take some elements of the Crimson Tide offense to Tempe. Not completely, but I believe he understands that the defense needs a breather every now and then. Quarterback Manny Wilkins returns to Arizona State, but is feeling the pressure from Alabama transfer Blake Barnett.
I would be surprised if Wilkins doesn’t trot out with the first-team on Thursday night. However, Arizona State won’t be shy at going to Barnett if things start to break down for Wilkins. Wilkins is a pure runner, he is great at making it work with his legs. He does have work to do in the passing game, though. In his first-year as the starter in 2016, Wilkins would often take off with the ball instead of settling in to the pocket and making a play via the air. He finished with 12 passing touchdowns and 9 interceptions, which goes to show you what his mantra was.
He left some plays on the field. With only 12 touchdown passes, he undoubtedly missed plays with his arm. Wilkins ran for 246 yards and 5 touchdowns, which wasn’t enough to compensate for his shoddy passing game. He must show improvements in that regard, or Barrett will be the guy. OC Napier is familiar with Barrett so he probably gets an extra vote from him in this QB battle. New Mexico State will play their final year in the Sun Belt before departing as an independent.
New Mexico State Aggies vs. Arizona State Sun Devils Betting Odds:
New Mexico State +23(-105)
@Arizona State -23(-115)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
New Mexico State vs. Arizona State Pick:
Arizona State has to avoid the lookahead spot in Week 1. They have a good San Diego State team on the docket for next week. This week should be used to work out some kinks in the offense and find a starter. New Mexico State has a clear starter at quarterback, with fifth-year senior Tyler Rogers. He is an adequate quarterback, posting 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2016.
He’s good enough to run the New Mexico State offense. However, New Mexico State will lean heavily on their running game. Larry Rose will be the focal-point of the Aggies’ attack. It should open up the play-action against an abysmal Arizona State pass defense.
Note that the Aggies will get a plethora of talent back on offense, including six players with experience on the offensive line and their main wide receivers are all back on campus. Offense shouldn’t be the problem for them, especially here against a putrid Sun Devils’ defense. Arizona State finished 124th in points allowed per game, 39.8, and 128th against the pass. I can see the experienced New Mexico State offense finding some running lanes against a defense which should still be pretty bad.
Likewise, New Mexico State has a lot of holes on their defense. They finished 121st in the country with regards to total yards allowed per game. While they return some starters on defense, they signed several junior college players for the secondary.
If this isn’t a perfect scenario for Arizona State to get the passing game going early in the season I don’t know what is. I expect the Sun Devils to score at will on New Mexico State. Conversely, the Aggies should find success downfield with the play-action. I originally thought this was too many points, but after handicapping this matchup, there should be around 80 points on the board. The OVER looks like a good pick down in the desert.
PICK: OVER 72 (-105)