Arizona State heads into its season opener against visiting New Mexico State on Thursday with most of its key offensive personnel back from last campaign but a number of new coordinators on its coaching staff. Billy Napier takes over as offensive coordinator after spending the past four seasons as wide receivers coach at Alabama, and Phil Bennett will run the defense after serving in the same role for Baylor over the last six campaigns.
Manny Wilkins returns at quarterback for the Sun Devils after passing for 2,329 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games last season. Wilkins is expected to be more cautious with his running style, as he missed two games due to injury last year and was banged up in a handful of others. Blake Barnett, a transfer from Alabama, is waiting in the wings should Wilkins struggle or get injured again. New Mexico State hasn’t won more than four games in a season in the last 12 years, but the Aggies also return their starting quarterback, leading rusher and seven of their top eight receivers.
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, Pac 12 Network. LINE: Arizona State -23
ABOUT NEW MEXICO STATE (2016: 3-9): Seven starters return on offense for the Aggies - including senior quarterback Tyler Rogers, who threw for 2,589 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Interceptions have plagued Rogers in his three-year career, as he’s been picked off 38 times while throwing 42 scoring passes. Five of his 12 interceptions last year were in the red zone, but he still led the Sun Belt Conference in passing efficiency (116.7).
ABOUT ARIZONA STATE (2016: 5-7): Senior running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage are expected to get the bulk of the carries for the third consecutive season, and they’ll look to improve after each put up better numbers in 2015. The top returning receiver is 6-4 sophomore N’Keal Harry, who made a team-high 58 catches for 659 yards and five touchdowns last year. DJ Calhoun will anchor the defense after leading the Sun Devils with 77 tackles last season, including 11 1/2 for a loss, and fellow senior linebacker Koron Crump finished tied for third in the Pac-12 with nine sacks.
1. Arizona State has averaged 37.8 penatly yards over the last five seasons - the fourth-fewest in the nation behind Navy (25.2), Army (36.2) and Air Force (37.7).
2. The Sun Devils are one of three Division I teams that does not return a kicker or punter who had at least one attempt last season.
3. New Mexico State RB Larry Rose III set a single-season school record with 1,651 rushing yards in 2015, then missed the first three games last year after undergoing sports hernia surgery before recording 865 yards on the ground.
PREDICTION: Arizona State 48, New Mexico State 21.