Finally: ASU set to begin play as delayed Pac-12 schedule could work to league’s advantage

Who wants the ball? Although USC pulled out a victory over Arizona State last season, the Sun Devils hope for a different result in their season opener Saturday at the Coliseum. The game could turn out to be one of the biggest of the Pac-12 shortened regular season. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TEMPE – Exactly 312 days.

That’s how much time will have passed since Arizona State’s last game when it takes the field Saturday against No. 20 USC.

No one in this program has ever experienced a season like this, so how can players and coaches prepare for it?

“Safety is paramount,” ASU football coach Herm Edwards said. “We have to be safe, we don’t have any wiggle room.”

In early September, the Pac-12 conference announced new daily COVID-19 testing protocols to help ensure the safety of everyone involved. Edwards said he’s been pleased with how those protocols have worked out so far, but the real test comes when the team finally hits the road.

“It’s been outstanding. … (The question) is not so much when we’re here (at home), it’s when we leave here,” said Edwards, whose team opens the season at the Los Angeles Coliseum. “I think for the most part our players, our coaching staff, and all the people involved have done a nice job.”

When Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, arguably the face of college football, tested positive for COVID-19 in late October, it sent shock waves throughout programs across the country. For ASU linebacker Kyle Soelle, it was a wakeup call that nobody is exempt from contracting the virus, not even President Donald Trump.

“You’ve got to be careful no matter what, it’s an invisible monster,” Soelle said. “When you see our president contract it, he’s got the most security out of anyone, I would say, in our nation … so we’re taking big precautions.”

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The Pac-12 may be a bit late to the party, but it could turn out to be a stronger conference than expected. Two Pac-12 teams are ranked in the AP Top 25 without having played yet, with Oregon at No. 12 and USC at No. 20.

The Pac-12’s shortened schedule of seven conference games could work to its advantage. An undefeated team could look more attractive to the College Football Playoff Selection Committee than a team from a conference like the Big 12, which has no undefeated teams and nine of 10 members with two or more losses.

By facing the Trojans in their first game, the Sun Devils will be tested right out of the gate.

“They (the Trojans) run their system, and that’s what good offenses do,” Edwards said. “Last time I checked, they’re a pretty good offense, they really don’t worry about the opponent’s defense so much. … We’re going to run our defense (system) too, by the way.”

USC’s offense has been the topic of much discussion, but its defense will also pose a challenge for ASU.

“USC has some good players, so I feel like we’re gonna see a pretty big and physical defensive line Week One,” ASU offensive lineman Dohnovan West said. “Maybe one of the better D-lines in our conference.”

With only a six-game schedule, ASU will have no room for error if it wants to win a Pac-12 championship.

“Winning your first game gives you a lot of momentum,” Edwards said. “There’s not a lot of margin for error, I think every team in this Pac-12 situation, we understand we have six (games), they’re all important.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Ethan Greni is a transfer student from California who expects to graduate in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Greni is a digital reporter covering hockey for Cronkite News.