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Sun Devils host San Jose State

August 26, 2007

The 95th season of Arizona State football kicks off on Saturday, September 1, when the Sun Devils play host to the San Jose State Spartans at Frank Kush Field/Sun Devil Stadium. Saturday is City of Tempe Night, with city employees being recognized. It is the first game for head coach Dennis Erickson, who was named ASU's 22nd head football coach on December 11, 2006. The Devils boast 46 returners from last season's Hawai'i Bowl squad, including 10 returning starters on offense and six on defense. ASU was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-10 and heads into Saturday's contest looking to win their fifth straight season opener.

The Sun Devil Sports Network will carry all 12 of ASU's football games live on their 10-station radio network, including flagship station Sports 620 KTAR AM. Tim Healey (play-by-play) and former Sun Devil quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst (color analyst) will call the action, while Amy Bender will provide sideline reports during home games.

Arizona State is 65-27-2 (.702) all-time in season openers and 45-15-1 (.746) when opening the season at home. The Sun Devils have won six straight season openers at home, including last season's 35-14 win over Northern Arizona. ASU has won 10 of their past 11 openers at Sun Devil Stadium.

Saturday will be the 30th meeting between the Sun Devils and the Spartans. Arizona State leads the all-time series 18-11, including a 13-5 mark at home. These two teams last met in 2001, with the Devils winning 53-15 at Sun Devil Stadium. The series with San Jose State dates back to their first meeting in 1936. The Spartans won the first four meetings, but ASU has won the last 12. Prior to the 2001 match-up, the two teams hadn't met since 1989. Dennis Erickson is 1-1 vs. the Spartans and coached at San Jose State from 1979 to 1981.

San Jose State Coach Dick Tomey is quite familiar with the Sun Devils, having coached against them every year during his 14 seasons as head coach of Arizona. New ASU coach Dennis Erickson is also familiar with Tomey, as Erickson's final game as the head coach at Idaho was against Tomey and the Spartans last season. The match-up between Erickson and Tomey also features two of only five active coaches who have won nine or more games at three different schools. Erickson has done it with Washington State, Miami and Oregon State. The other active coaches are Dennis Franchione (Texas A&M), Bobby Bowden (Florida State) and Howard Schnellenberger (Florida Atlantic).

46 letterwinners from the 2006 squad return , including 10 offensive starters and six defensive starters. The offense is led by Rudy Carpenter, back for his third season as signal caller for the Devils. Carpenter will have plenty of support, thanks to the outstanding running back tandem of Ryan Torain and Keegan Herring. His wide receiving corp is just as potent, boasting returners Michael Jones, Nate Kimbrough, and the invaluable all-purpose threat, Rudy Burgess. The defense is anchored by safety Josh Barrett, who led the team in total tackles and interceptions a year ago. Barrett is joined by a dynamic linebacking duo of Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon, as well as defensive end Dexter Davis, who led the team in sacks in 2006. Jonathan Johnson also brings experience to special teams, back for his second season as the punter.

ASU was picked to finish fourth in the Pacific-10 Conference by West Coast media members who regularly cover the league. Defending Pac-10 champion USC was the unanimous choice to win their fifth straight conference crown, garnering all 39 first place votes. ASU and USC will meet at Sun Devil Stadium on Nov. 22 on ESPN. The media poll has correctly selected the Conference Champion in 24 of 46 previous polls, including the last seven years.

As Arizona State's starting quarterback during the past 18 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons, Rudy Carpenter has solidified himself as one of the most accomplished at his position among his classmates. Compared to other signal-callers to be juniors in 2007, Carpenter ranks second in touchdown passes (40) and passer efficiency rating (150.51), fourth in career passing yards (4,796), fifth in completed passes and passing attempts (340-of-560) and sixth in completion percentage (60.7-percent).

Carpenter also ranks among the very best in the Pac-10 conference, standing as the conference's active career leader in passer efficiency rating and ranks second to only Alex Brink of Washington State, who is a year of eligibility ahead of Carpenter, in passing attempts, completed passes, passing yards and touchdown passes. Additionally, the Westlake Village, Calif., native has enjoyed seven career games with over 300 passing yards, the most among active Pac-10 quarterbacks.

Carpenter followed his record-setting freshman campaign with a solid sophomore season, ranking third in the Pac-10 in touchdown passes while throwing for 2,523 yards. When compared to those of his predecessors, Carpenter's combined freshman and sophomore year passing totals rank as the very best in the history of Arizona State University, exceeding the totals compiled by some of the finest athletes in the history of the program.

No team in the Pac-10 showcased as many talented defensive freshmen as ASU did in 2006, headlined by defensive end Dexter Davis and linebacker Travis Goethel, both of whom earned Pac-10 All-Freshman and honorable mention Freshman All-America honors by The Sporting News. Davis was one of ASU's most consistent defensive players, leading the team in sacks (6.0) and tackles-for-loss (10.5) as a starter in all 13 games. Goethel and fellow linebacker Mike Nixon both appeared in all 13 games, each starting four and Goethel compiled 29 total stops, while Nixon totaled 32 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss and three sacks. Safety-turned-linebacker Ryan McFoy started eight contests, totaling 34 tackles and two interceptions and linebacker Gerald Munns started a pair of games, tallying 15 total stops. In total, six rookies saw action for the Sun Devils last season, four of whom were true freshmen and the group combined for 151 total tackles, 21.5 tackles-for-loss, 11.0 sacks and six forced fumbles.

Sophomore defensive end Dexter Davis enjoyed one of the most sensational freshman seasons by a Sun Devil defender in school history last season, earning Pac-10 All-Freshman honors and honorable mention freshman All-America recognition by The Sporting News. The Phoenix, Ariz., native recorded a team-best and Pac-10 freshman season-high 6.0 quarterback sacks, the third-most by a Sun Devil rookie in school history. Davis' total trails only those by Terrell Suggs (2000) and Shante Carver (1990), who each posted 10.0 sacks as a freshman and in total, Suggs (44 career sacks) and Carver (41) rank first and second on ASU's all-time career sacks list. Also, Davis totaled 40 tackles on the season, the most by an ASU freshman since TSN freshman All-America safety Jason Shivers' team-high 89 total stops in 2001. Davis proved to be a threat to opposing ballcarriers in a variety of ways, posting an ASU season-high and Pac-10 freshman best three forced fumbles, the most by a Sun Devil freshman since Suggs' four in 2000 and the fourth-most among freshmen in school history.

Entering 2007, the Sun Devils will showcase one of the most experienced and honored offensive lines in the Pac-10, as ASU boasts the only unit of linemen in the conference which returns all five starters from the conclusion of the 2006 season. Also, ASU returns three offensive linemen that received All-Pac-10 honors in 2006, trailing only Oregon State for most in the conference and five Sun Devil linemen, including four projected starters, have already earned their undergraduate degree. The Sun Devil front five is led by second-team All-Pac-10 center, graduate Mike Pollak and honorable mention All-Pac-10 recipients junior guard Paul Fanaika and graduate tackle Brandon Rodd. Graduate guard Robert Gustavis and graduate tackle Julius Orieuwku also provide starting experience for 2007. Last season, Gustavis and Pollak started all 13 games at right guard and center, respectively, while Rodd started all 11 games in which he played at left tackle. After injuries suffered by 2006 seniors Andrew Carnahan and Stephen Berg, Faniaka started the season's final 10 games, while Orieukwu was a starter in the final seven contests. Sophomore tackle Richard Tuitu'u adds depth in 2007 after filling in as a starter for Rodd last season. Graduate Zach Krula will be welcomed back to the line in 2007, having earned a sixth-year of eligibility from the NCAA after missing the majority of the past two seasons due to injury. A starter in eight of 16 career games at guard, Krula was moved to right tackle in the spring, showing tremendous promise at the position. In 2006, the Sun Devil blockers helped enable ASU to gain its greatest rushing total since 1999 and showcase the team's first 1,000-yard runner since 2001, while protecting quarterback Rudy Carpenter and help allow him to become only the second Sun Devil quarterback in the past 10 seasons to start every game of the season.

After having six total punts blocked by opposing teams during the 2004-05 seasons, ASU enjoyed the greatest net punting improvement in the Pac-10 Conference in 2006, jumping from a ninth-ranked 30.3 net average in 2005 to second in the conference last season, averaging 37.2 net yards-per-punt. Leading the turnaround for the Sun Devils was first-year punter and former junior college transfer Jonathan Johnson, who averaged 41.5 gross yards on 54 punts, placing 12 within the opponent's 20-yard line, forcing nine fair catches with only three touchbacks and did not suffer a blocked punt all season. Aiding Johnson's efficiency was ASU's special teams coverage squad, which allowed only 148 total yards on 20 returned punts, 54-percent of which occurred on one return, an 80-yard dash by California's All-American punt returner DeSean Jackson. With the exception of that one return, the Sun Devils blanketed the conference's best return men, allowing only 68 total yards on the remaining 19 returned punts (3.6 yards-per-return). The Sun Devils limited second-team All-Pac-10 returner Sammie Stroughter of Oregon State to -3 total yards on three punt returns and Arizona's first-team All-Pac-10 returns specialist Syndric Steptoe was only able to return one of five punts kicked by Johnson for merely six yards. Also, in six of 13 games on the year, ASU allowed negative or zero total punt return yards.

After establishing itself in recent years as a national offensive powerhouse predominately predicated on its passing attack, ASU proved it could attack opposing defenses with a punishing ground game last season. Entering 2007, the Sun Devils boast the most potent running backs combination in the Pac-10, as senior Ryan Torain and junior Keegan Herring combined for 1,778 rushing yards in 2006, more than any pair of returning Pac-10 teammates. In total, ASU showcases three of eight active Pac-10 ballcarriers to have surpassed 1,000 career rushing yards, including Herring and Torain as well as senior wide receiver Rudy Burgess, who is a dangerous all-purpose threat and was ASU's starting tailback during the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

Senior running back Ryan Torain enjoyed one of the most incredible rushing seasons in school history in 2006, totaling 1,229 rushing yards on 223 carries. Torain became the first Sun Devil to surpass 1,000 rushing yards since Delvon Flowers in 2001 and produced the greatest single-season rushing output since Sun Devil great Freddie Williams' total of 1,427 for head coach Frank Kush's legendary 1975 squad. The 1,229 yards was the most ever by a Sun Devil running back since ASU joined the Pac-10 in 1978. The 6-1, 213-pounder earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors while rushing for over 100 yards in four games and more than 80 yards in eight contests. A Maxwell Award watch list member, Torain enters 2007 as one of the top backs in college football and is poised to be a focal point of the Sun Devil offense.

What makes Torain's remarkable 2006 season additionally impressive is that it was his debut season with the Sun Devils and his first at the Division I level, having transferred to ASU from Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan. Torain created an instant impact wearing maroon and gold, scoring five total touchdowns in his first four games and rushing for a team season-high 191 yards on 24 carries in his Pac-10 debut at No. 21 California. In all, the Shawnee Mission, Kan., native authored one of the most prolific debut seasons in Pac-10 history, ranking fourth all-time among rushing yards by first-year players.

Ryan Torain is only the seventh returning 1,000 yard rusher in school history, and the first since Darryl Harris in 1987. Only Woody Green, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in three straight years, and Freddie Williams have ever put together back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons for the Sun Devils.

After breaking ASU's freshman rushing record by totaling 870 yards in 2005, junior Keegan Herring rushed for 549 yards on 94 carries in 2006 as part of the most dynamic rushing combination in the Pac-10 Conference. One of the quickest athletes in the Pac-10, Herring led all Sun Devil runners last season averaging 5.8 yards-per-carry and is one of only four active ballcarriers in the conference to have rushed for over 500 yards in each of the past two seasons. In 25 career games, the Peoria (Ariz.) High School product has totaled 252 carries for 1,419 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.

Only four teams in the nation return a running back unit that consisted of a 1,000 yard rusher and a 500 yard rusher last season, including ASU's Ryan Torain and Keegan Herring. Torain and Herring combined for 1,778 rushing yards in 2006. Arkansas, Clemson and Western Michigan are the others.

Senior safety Josh Barrett enjoyed a terrific season in his first year as full-time starter in 2006, earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors while leading the Sun Devils in total tackles (82) and interceptions (three) as a starter in all 13 contests. The Reno, Nev., native also ranked second on the squad in pass deflections (six) and third in tackles-for-loss (7.5) and is the third-leading returning tackler among Pac-10 defensive backs. For his career, he has totaled 136 tackles (94 solo), 11.0 tackles-for-loss, 10 pass deflections, five interceptions and two sacks. An incredible athlete and a member of the Bednarik Award, Lott Trophy and Nagurski Trophy Watch Lists, the 6-3, 231-pound Barrett has often times been clocked as ASU's fastest player and is expected to continue to be a major contributor and leader as a senior in 2007.

Sun Devil fans will be in for a treat at halftime of the ASU/USC game on Thanksgiving at Sun Devil Stadium. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Chuck Berry will perform with the ASU Marching Band during intermission of the game, performing a medley of four songs in a "Super Bowl" style halftime show. Berry, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, is most famous for his song "Johnny B. Goode".

Junior wide receiver Mike Jones isn't just a standout on the gridiron, he also is making a name for himself on the baseball diamond for the Sun Devils. Jones has spent the past two seasons as a centerfielder for the baseball team, including last year's Pac-10 Championship team that advanced to the College World Series. Jones was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 42nd round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft, but has opted not to sign a contract and will return to the baseball team in 2008. Sophomore wide receiver Kyle Williams will also play baseball for ASU in 2008. He took the 2007 baseball season off to concentrate on football, but hopes to compete for an infield spot in 2008.

The Sun Devils are one of eight teams in the country who start the season with four home games. Rutgers, who has five home contests to start 2007, Michigan, Kansas, Tulane, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Auburn all join Arizona State on the list. Only ASU, Stanford and Auburn will play all four of those games against teams from the Division I-Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A). Coincidentally, Stanford's fourth home game is against Arizona State, who will be playing their first road game of the season against the Cardinal.

Several Sun Devils are on preseason watch lists for national awards, led by senior safety Josh Barrett. Barrett finds himself on four lists for the 2007 season. He is on the watch list for the Lott Trophy, awarded to the nation's premier defensive player both on and off the field, the Nagurski Award, given to the nation's top defensive player, the Bednarik Trophy, handed out to best defensive player and the Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back. Senior running back Ryan Torain is on the Maxwell Award watch list, the award given to the most outstanding college football player. Senior center Mike Pollak is on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, awarded to the top interior lineman in the country, and the Rimington Trophy, given to the top center in the nation. Junior quarterback Rudy Carpenter was named to the Manning Award Watch List, given to the nation's top quarterback. Senior offensive linemen Mike Pollak and Brandon Rodd are both on the Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List, given to the top lineman in college football.

Josh Barrett, Michael Marquardt, Mike Pollak and Ryan Torain have been named the team captains for the 2007 season in a vote by the players.

Since 1997, Arizona State is second only to USC in the number of players from the Pac-10 taken in the annual NFL Draft. 40 Sun Devils have been selected in the draft over the past 10 years, including five players who were selected in the first round. Recent ASU standouts Terrel Suggs (10th overall selection in 2003), Levi Jones (10th overall selection in 2002) and Todd Heap (31st overall selection in 2001) have all found success in the NFL since leaving Arizona State.

The Sun Devils play host to the the Colorado Buffaloes next week at Frank Kush Field/Sun Devil Stadium. This will be the second meeting between these two schools, after Arizona State defeated the Buffs 21-3 last season in Boulder. Dennis Erickson is 1-1 in his career against Colorado, last facing them in 1993 when his Miami Hurricanes won 35-29. Kickoff is set for 7:15 p.m. with FSN Arizona televising the game live.