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The Athletic: How will ASU, Arizona football fare in the Pac-12?

ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) and Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate (14) (Photos by Kevin Abele, Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

Think one of the Arizona Pac-12 teams can win the conference this year?

If so, it looks like you’re part of a lonely crowd.

Bruce Feldman, Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples of The Athletic evaluated the Pac-12 and gave their thoughts on how ASU and Arizona football would perform this season.

Neither school was viewed favorably, though two analysts saw upside in the Wildcats and Staples thinks ASU could get second place in the Pac-12 South.

He foresees a 7-5 (5-4 Pac-12) record behind just Utah in the Pac-12 South, and was the only one of the three analysts to name quarterback Jayden Daniels the freshman to watch in the conference.

Neither of the other analysts were high on ASU.

Feldman and Mandel both projected the Sun Devils to go 2-7 in conference play. Feldman believes ASU will finish in last place in the Pac-12 South with a 4-8 record, while Mandel believes the team will go 5-7 and finish in second-to-last place.

That doesn’t mean either are convinced ASU is doomed in 2019. Mandel wrote the Sun Devils were tricky to predict.

“The team I had the hardest time with in the South was ASU. On the one hand, Herm’s first season was promising, and he’s got an All-America RB in Eno Benjamin. On the other hand, they’re starting a true freshman QB with no more N’Keal Harry. That’s how I ended up at 5-7.”

Both predicted Arizona would finish one game and one spot better than ASU in the standings. Feldman thinks Arizona will go 5-7 (2-7 Pac-12) while Mandel sees a 6-6 (4-5 Pac-12) finish.

Feldman believes quarterback Khalil Tate is the X-factor for Arizona.

“I’m skeptical of both Arizona schools, but it wouldn’t shock me if Tate went off again this year after being so banged up in 2018. I think people forget he was the best player in the league two years ago.”

Staples believes Arizona will go 6-6 (3-6 Pac-12) and finish fourth in the Pac-12 South.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t see a high ceiling for the Wildcats, though.

Mandel: “Is there any danger we’re underselling [ASU], Arizona or Colorado?”

Staples: This group is a mystery. I think if Arizona — which ranked No. 71 in the nation in yards per play allowed last season — can take a step forward on defense, the Wildcats could be a problem for everybody. Khalil Tate seems to be on the same page as Kevin Sumlin and Noel Mazzone now, so I think this year’s version of the offense will be built around what he does very well — which is run. If he can stay healthy, defenses will have to respect what he can do on the ground. That will make throwing the ball easier.”

How high could this ceiling be?

Staples: “Tate put up video game numbers in 2017. If he’s back to that, Arizona could be a dark horse in the Pac-12 South.”

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