Arizona State football enters Big 12 conference with ‘external motivation’

Jul 9, 2024, 7:14 PM | Updated: 8:40 pm

Arizona State football will enter its first season in the Big 12 conference with plenty to prove to its naysayers.

In the latest Big 12 preseason media poll released last week, the Sun Devils were picked to finish last amongst the 15 other teams they now share a conference with.

Meanwhile, their former Pac-12 counterparts in the Utah Utes are projected to finish first, longtime rival Arizona Wildcats sit fifth and Colorado Buffaloes rank 11th.

So how exactly is Arizona State handling the doubt cast upon them entering the upcoming season? Head coach Kenny Dillingham spoke with Arizona Sports on Monday, during Day 1 of Big 12 Media Days, and said the team is well aware of the ranking. It gives his players added “external motivation.”

“We 100% pay attention to stuff like that. I think anybody who says they don’t I mean the reality is everyone is a little externally motivated,” Dillingham said.

“And I think that’s some external motivation for our guys to look at and say, ‘Man, that’s what people think of you.’ You’re either going to act upon it and change that narrative or you’re going to dwell on it and embrace it. We better act upon it and change it.”

Offensive tackle Leif Fautanu also spoke with Arizona Sports on Tuesday and echoed his head coach’s message. Fautanu alluded to the culture within the program as being a factor for wanting to prove doubters wrong.

“I think the culture that we have, Year 2 is trying to prove people wrong, and I think that with seeing that,” Fautanu said.

“It’s kind of disrespectful a little bit, but at the same time we use that as fuel to kind of motivate us.”

Arizona State is coming off its second consecutive season finishing with a 3-9 record. The last time the Sun Devils made a bowl appearance was in 2021 where they lost to Wisconsin in the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl.

Since then, they have had two different head coaches and were dinged with multiple NCAA recruiting violations during the COVID-19 dead period in 2020. Arizona State implemented a self-imposed bowl ban last year as part of the punishment.

While Dillingham has had to deal with his fair share of changes since taking over as ASU’s head coach, he remains optimistic that the experience can help his team succeed on the gridiron.

“The last year and a half has definitely been a whirlwind, from building the team and the culture to the changing of college football and starting a little bit from scratch,” Dillingham said.

“The constant changes have been a challenge, but it’s been exciting and I think our team is growing together. I think our culture is growing together and I think we’re going to be a pretty good football team.”

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