ASU’s unusual history with the Mid-American Conference

By Carson Field

For most fans, Arizona State’s season opener against Kent State probably looks no different than any other “cupcake” game in past years. With a point spread higher than 20 points, not much national attention has been drawn to Thursday’s contest. 

But maybe it should be.

It has been 40 years since ASU last squared off against a Mid-American Conference opponent. In that game, Arizona State scored 49 more points than visiting Toledo — and still, technically, lost. NCAA sanctions forced the Sun Devils to forfeit five wins in the 1979 season, that blowout being one of them. 

With only two all-time meetings between the Sun Devils and the MAC, there isn’t much history between the two. But it isn’t a favorable pastime for Arizona State. 

In addition to the vacated win — forever etched into the history books as a loss — ASU fell to Miami (OH) in the 1951 Salad Bowl, 34-21. 

ASU outscored MAC opponents 70-34 in its only two contests against the conference. But, according to official records, the Sun Devils have never come out victorious against the mid-major league. 

Not many programs and conferences can attest to such a peculiar history. More than likely, this unconventional past isn’t at the forefront of Herm Edwards’ thinking patterns heading into Week 1. 

ASU and Kent State have never played against each other, and the Sun Devils are runaway favorites. So why should it be?

Regardless, Edwards is doing all in his power to avoid complacency against what should be an outmatched opponent. 

I told them that these guys are going to come onto this field on Thursday excited to play us,” Edwards said. “No matter what conference you play in, you get up for teams.” 

Last season, the Golden Flashes finished 2-10 overall, with their only wins coming against Howard and Bowling Green. This dismal season was the first under head coach Sean Lewis. 

Offensively, Kent State’s finished in the back half of the Mid-American Conference in scoring offense, passing yards and pass efficiency, among other categories. 

Most of the Golden Flashes’ success came on the ground from Jo-El Shaw and Justin Rankin, who combined for over 1,200 yards. With Rankin no longer enrolled at the university, it will be up to Shaw to carry the weight in the backfield, along with dual-threat quarterback Woody Barrett, who rushed for over 500 yards and seven touchdowns last year. 

An Auburn transfer, Barrett struggled in the passing game during his first season in Kent. He was sacked 41 times and threw nine interceptions, while posting a completion percentage of 58.7. 

Now a junior, Barrett will be more comfortable and dangerous in the pocket — at least Edwards thinks so. 

“When he starts running around, you better contain him and you better plaster the back end of the defense because he will throw it downfield. He has a good arm and they have some good receivers that can go up and catch the ball. 

“He makes the unannounced play.”

On paper, Thursday’s game should be a beatdown in favor of Edwards’ squad. There’s usually a pretty staunch difference between a team that went 7-6 in the Pac-12 and one that went 2-10 in the MAC a year ago. 

But this isn’t how Edwards and his staff are viewing this opening contest. To secure ASU’s first official victory over a Mid-American Conference opponent, the Sun Devils don’t have any plans to take their feet off the pedals. 

“They are going to have to go play,” Edwards said. “Everyone has a mindset of how the game is supposed to look until the ball actually kicks off.

“You play four quarters and at the end, you find out what the score is. Do not have this picture in your mind of what it is supposed to be because generally, you guessed wrong.”