Jayden Daniels enters his third year conducting the Herm Train
The Arizona State Sun Devils' long-awaited breakout campaign could be near. In 2021, Herm Edwards' fourth season at the helm and third full campaign, the Sun Devils feature a variety of high-value recruits who are now seasoned veterans.
Coming off a strong finish to the shortened 2020 slate, and coming just two drives shy of winning the Pac-12 South, Arizona State is well-positioned for its first conference championship game appearance since 2013.
1. A potent run game
Led by dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels, entering his third season as the Sun Devils starter, Arizona State boasts one of the most balanced rushing attacks in the Pac-12. The departure of Eno Benjamin after the 2019 season left a considerable void, but the tandem of Rachaad White and Chip Trayanum was more than sufficient, combining with Daniels to produce the top rushing offense in the conference at 264.3 yards per game.
As with any effective rushing offense, Arizona State owed much of its success to solid offensive-line play. With guard Dohnovan West back to anchor a veteran unit, the front five's a strength.
The versatility of Arizona State's running attack also translates in the pass. White was the team's leading receiver in 2020. While not ideal for a running back to set the receiving pace in a full season, that threat combined with the multi-dimensional run-game look should open the field for the passing game.
2. Defensive playmakers
Linebacker Merlin Robertson's decision to spurn the draft for at least another year gives the Sun Devils defense one of the top playmakers in the conference around which to build. Robertson's stellar in run pursuit, but can drop back into pass coverage just as effectively. With Darien Butler also back in the mix, Arizona State boasts one of the top linebacker corps in the conference.
Tyler Johnson had a breakout 2020 and looks poised to be Arizona State's next great pass rusher. With pressure applied to quarterbacks, the high-risk, high-reward style of cornerback Jack Jones could be an asset.
3. Daniels ready to break out
Daniels' prolific rushing is already noted, but the talented quarterback has much more to give. With two seasons as a starter to his credit, including a sensational freshman campaign, the time for Daniels to assert himself as one of the nation's premier quarterbacks is here.
Should the ground game continue to progress as nicely as it did in 2020 — with a 60.7 percent completion rate and 17 touchdowns to 2 interceptions — he'll have plenty of room to operate in the passing game. He showed in 2019 how surgical he can be in that regard. With talented freshmen receivers joining the program, including Lonyatta Alexander, Daniels' ceiling is high in Year 3.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.