Could the Arizona State Sun Devils be Pac-12 South sleepers? ASU reporter Derek Hagan weighs in

Posted at 5:20 PM, Sep 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-23 20:21:32-04

Last week's victory at UTSA was anything but a work of art, and it exposed the improvements the Arizona State Sun Devils need to make on both sides of the ball.

Still, ASU is a perfect 3-0 heading into conference play, which has some Sun Devil fans encouraged that this season won't be as mediocre as many thought it would be.

And if you ask former ASU wide receiver-turned-Sun Devil sideline reporter Derek Hagan, there's no reason the Devils can't be in the mix for the Pac-12 South championship, which they last won in 2013.

"A lot of people aren't talking about the Sun Devils too much, but when I was playing and throughout the years, it's always been a good thing when ASU just flies under the radar because that's normally when we have our best seasons," Hagan, who played in the NFL for nine seasons, told ABC15's Jason Snavely.

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Hagan said the Sun Devils' success in conference play, which begins Saturday night at home vs. Cal, will depend upon their young, talented core on offense, including new starting quarterback Manny Wilkins, the running back duo of Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard, and talented true freshman wide receiver N'Keal Harry.

"The core group of the offense seems like they're on track to do things that are really big," he said. "Manny Wilkins is a redshirt sophomore. Then when you look at Kalen and Demario both being juniors, and now N'Keal as a true freshman -- they're only going to continue to grow. They're going to continue to get better.

"Same thing with the offensive line. Coming into the season, the talk was, you know, these guys are inexperienced. One returning starter; four guys have to be replaced. So far, these guys have started to get the experience and learning the process of how to be a Sun Devil."

That's not to suggest the Sun Devils are the favorites to win the South, as the two schools from Los Angeles (USC and UCLA) along with Utah figure to stand in ASU's way.

Combine that with the fact that ASU will only have three more home games after Saturday night's matchup in Tempe and -- well, the task is hardly impossible, but Hagan knows the road to a second division championship in four years is going to be a bumpy one for these young Sun Devils.

"It's gonna be tough," he said. "I'm assuming they're going to be right in the middle of the pack. They've still got to play UCLA, they've still got to play USC, they've still got to play Utah. There's a lot of games coming forward, but they have to take it one game at a time."