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Arizona State surprise team to beat in 2021 Pac-12 football season via SportsLine Projection Model; oddsmakers give Sun Devils over-under win total of 9

The SportsLine Projection Model forecasts Arizona State as the best team in the Pac-12 this coming football season.
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The SportsLine Projection Model's first simulations for the 2021 college football season are out, and while obviously plenty can change between now and late August/early September, it forecasts Arizona State as the team to beat in what appears to be a wide-open Pac-12. Coach Herm Edwards' Sun Devils are given a conference-best power ranking of 74.9 (see below), which is ASU's projected win percentage against every other FBS team in the nation. That number ranks No. 12 in the country with Alabama first at 90.5 percent.

Arizona State has yet to win the Pac-12 title in the conference championship game era and is +400 on the moneyline to do so this year. The Pac-12 title game debuted in 2011. The lone time the Sun Devils made it was in 2013 when it lost to North Division champion Stanford 38-14. The Devils haven't played in the Rose Bowl since 1997, when Jake Plummer was the quarterback.

When Edwards was hired from ESPN before the 2018 season, it was widely panned but it has worked out well. ASU was 7-6 his first season and 8-5 the next before playing just four games a year ago in the pandemic and finishing 2-2.

There are expected to be 19 starters back (nine offense, 10 defense), led by quarterback Jayden Daniels, who is +3000 at William Hill Sportsbook to win the Heisman Trophy. Arizona State has never had a winner.

The former touted recruit Daniels is on just about every preseason player watch award list possible. He was a freshman All-American in 2019, throwing for 2,943 yards (11th most in school history) and 17 touchdowns with just two picks – the fewest in school history by a quarterback throwing 300 or more passes in a season. Hard to read too much into last year's four-game sample when Daniels threw for 701 yards, five TDs and a pick. He also rushed for 223 yards and four scores.

Also back are running backs Rachaad White and Chip Trayanum, who averaged a combined 177.5 yards in four games last year, and four starting offensive linemen. Just about every key defender returns.

A 3-0 non-conference record seems likely with an easy schedule; a trip to BYU is never a sure win, but the Cougars have to replace star quarterback Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick by the Jets. The Sun Devils avoid Oregon, which has opened as the +225 Pac-12 favorite, and get USC (+400) at home but have tough trips to Utah (+1600) and Washington (+450). The No. 2 team via the model in the Pac-12 is Washington with a power ranking of 74.7 percent.

NCAA win totals aren't out yet but should be soon – SportsLine oddsmakers project an Over/Under of 9.0 regular-season wins for the Sun Devils assuming all 12 games are played. When the preseason Top 25 polls come out in August, I'd still expect Arizona State to be no better than fourth among Pac-12 schools behind Oregon, USC and Washington. That's how CBS Sports has its rankings right now as well. 

2021 Arizona State football schedule

  • Sept. 2 – Southern Utah (Thursday)
  • Sept. 11 – UNLV
  • Sept. 18 – at BYU
  • Sept. 25 – Colorado
  • Oct. 2 – at UCLA
  • Oct. 8 – Stanford (Friday)
  • Oct. 16 – at Utah
  • Oct. 23 – Bye
  • Oct. 30 – Washington State
  • Nov. 6 – USC
  • Nov. 13 – at Washington
  • Nov. 20 – at Oregon State
  • Nov. 27 – Arizona 
RANK       TEAM POWER SIM%
1 Alabama Crimson Tide 90.50%
2 Ohio State Buckeyes 90.30%
3 Clemson Tigers 88.00%
4 Oklahoma Sooners 82.10%
5 Georgia Bulldogs 80.30%
6 Wisconsin Badgers 79.40%
7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 78.80%
8 Cincinnati Bearcats 78.30%
9 Iowa Hawkeyes 77.80%
10 Iowa State Cyclones 77.40%
11 Florida Gators 75.60%
12 Arizona State Sun Devils 74.90%
13 Texas A&M Aggies 74.80%
14 Washington Huskies 74.70%
15 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers 74.20%
16 LSU Tigers 73.90%
17 Oregon Ducks 73.80%
18 Southern Methodist Mustangs 73.50%
19 Brigham Young Cougars 73.30%
20 Southern California Trojans 73.30%
21 UCF Knights 73.30%
22 Utah Utes 73.10%
23 Indiana Hoosiers 72.60%
24 UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns 72.10%
25 North Carolina Tar Heels 71.30%

Where does every player appear in our 2021 Fantasy football rankings? And which rookie quarterback will provide shocking value? Join SportsLine right now to get 2021 Fantasy football rankings, all from the model that simulated the entire season 10,000 times.

Matt Severance
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