TEMPE, Ariz. – The wait is nearly over.
All summer Arizona State has pointed to its season opening showdown against Texas A&M, and now the game is only days away.
“We’ve been watching the same film since January, so it’s time to get going on the field,” quarterback Mike Bercovici said Monday.
The 15th-ranked Sun Devils play Texas A&M in the 2015 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff in Houston on Saturday.
Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.
It’s the first time in 13 years ASU will begin its season on the road, and the first time since that 2002 loss at Nebraska that the Sun Devils will open against an opponent from one of the so-called Power Five conferences.
Texas A&M plays in the SEC and a team many experts predict will contend, if not outright win, the West Division.
“This is the kind of game you want to coach in, it’s kind of game you want to play in, it’s the kind of game our fans want to see, so I’m excited,” head coach Todd Graham said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The Aggies return 16 starters, eight on both offense and defense, from a team that finished 8-5, including a win over West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl.
The Sun Devils, 10-3 in 2014, also return 16 starters, nine of which are from a defense that ranked second in the Pac-12 and third in the nation in tackles for loss.
The Sept. 5 date has long been circled on the ASU calendar.
“I think it’s made our team better,” said Graham, referring to the matchup. “I think our team has had a sense of urgency in preparation. I think our team is going to be tested in a big way, and I’m a firm believer that we’re ready for that test. This is a really good football team we’re playing.
“When you play better people it makes you better. You can’t win big games and never play in a big game. When you play in a big game every once in a blue moon it doesn’t help you. And so, I like that we’re starting off this way in the season and then when you start conference, you’re going to start off in a big way as well (with back-to-back games against USC and UCLA). I like that.”
Technically the game is being played at a neutral site, however, NRG Stadium, the home of the Houston Texans, is just a two-hour drive from College Station.
In other words, Arizona State is expecting a very pro-A&M crowd.
“There’s no greater environment than walking out of the tunnel and getting booed or whatever the case may be,” Bercovici said. “That’s what you love, that’s what you signed up for. “It’s going to be an incredible environment.”
Added Graham, “We chose to play this game, chose to play it where we’re playing it, chose to play it on the road because we have that kind of belief in our players and our team.”