The Pac-12 is open for business again. Open for the taking, too. Especially in the Pac-12 South, unless you believe the pundits' pick that defending champion Utah rolls through the pedestrian division.
After watching Pac-12 South brethren Arizona blow its opener in Hawaii during Week 0, Arizona State can already get a leg up on its in-state rival and put one foot forward in the push to win the division.
The Sun Devils, who finished 7-6 overall, were second in the South last year with a 5-4 conference record despite being picked by many to finish last. This season — Herm Edward's second as head coach — they want to be first.
But first, it means getting the better of three non-conference foes before getting into Pac-12 play, and the best of that bunch comes on the road in Week 3 in No. 18 Michigan State, who ASU edged 16-13 at home early in 2018.
It's not exactly an accomplished Week 1 opponent that ASU is playing since Kent State has just three bowl appearances — and zero bowl wins — during its 99-year run as a football program.
The Golden Flashes haven't won a conference title since 1972 and didn't come close last year as a 1-7 team in MAC games as part of a paltry 2-10 overall mark. Going further back, they haven't bettered a 4-8 record in the last six seasons.
And it doesn't look like the near future will bring them any closer to five wins with the opening task against ASU and even more daunting non-conference challenges to follow. The Golden Flashes play two more Power 5 teams — both ranked — early on in the schedule. In Week 3, they visit No. 16 Auburn, and three weeks later, they visit No. 19 Wisconsin.
Kent State vs. Arizona State
Kickoff: Thursday, Aug. 29, at 10 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Arizona State -25
When Kent State Has the Ball
Woody Barrett is the man at the controls of a pass-happy attack brought over by second-year head coach Sean Lewis from Bowling Green, and the second-year starting quarterback can both throw the ball and run with it — with 2,339 yards through the air and 503 on the ground last year.
An already solid Kent State attack should improve in 2019 with a veteran-laden offensive line in place, which should stand strong against the inexperienced ASU defensive front.
When Barrett goes to the air, he has three reliable receivers at his disposal, and they'll need to be just that against an ever-improved ASU secondary. Barrett's leading target figure to be Mike Carrigan (597 yards on 45 catches in 2018), Antwan Dixon (532, 52) and Isaiah McKoy (423, 42) last year.
Running back Jo-El Shaw also rolled up similar real estate (657 yards on 138 carries) despite a platoon role, but he can be a factor in the passing game as well.
And when there's a stalled drive, the Golden Flashes can rely on sophomore kicker Matthew Trickett, who connected on 14 of his 17 field goal tries last season.
When Arizona State Has the Ball
It's no longer the Manny Wilkins-to-N'Keal Harry show at ASU. They've both graduated.
The ball is now in the hands of true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels, and it's up to talented running back Eno Benjamin to take the early pressure off the highly-prized dual-threat recruit under center.
It'll help young Daniels that he draws Ken State's defense for his first taste of NCAA football.
Sure it's a veteran unit, but the Golden Flashes finished near the bottom of the national rankings in just about every major category last season. Providing pressure was a problem last year (24 sacks, tied for 84th nationally) and that was with All-MAC tackle Kalil Morris still on board.
Kent State also is tasked with trying to slow down Benjamin, who set an Arizona State record with 1,642 rushing yards — good for fifth in the nation in 2018 — and added 16 TDs. The Golden Flashes gave up 220 rushing yards per game last season.
With Harry opting early for the NFL, the ASU receiving corps takes a sure hit — he rolled up 1,088 yards last year. But it's in good hands with the likes of Brandon Aiyuk, Kyle Williams and Frank Darby, who each finished with at least 421 receiving yards and two touchdowns last season.
Kent State is an experienced team and somehow managed to push Power 5 squads last year early in games against Illinois, Penn State and Ole Miss.
But the Golden Flashes will get pushed around by Arizona State's offensive line in this one, as it'll open holes for Eno Benjamin to gain more than 200 yards on the ground.
Yes, the Golden Flashes are going to be a vastly improved team from a year ago, but Herm Edwards will have the Sun Devils focused early on the task at hand — taking no prisoners in pushing Utah for the Pac-12 South crown and a possible shot at the conference title.
Plus the desert heat will get to the visitors from Ohio.