TEMPE, Arizona (Ticker) -- With Andrew Walter firmly at the controls, 21st-ranked Arizona State opens its season Saturday against Division I-AA Northern Arizona.
Walter emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the Pac-10 Conference last year as a sophomore and set a number of single-season school records despite not taking over as the starter until the fifth game.
He passed for 3,877 yards and 28 touchdowns, leading the Sun Devils to an 8-6 record and their fifth bowl appearance in seven years.
Arizona State (1-0) has two huge voids to fill, losing defensive end Terrell Suggs, who set an NCAA single-season record with 24 sacks last year, and wide receiver Shaun McDonald, the school's second all-time leading receiver.
But the Sun Devils still should feature a potent offense as Daryl Lightfoot and Skyler Fulton will be Walter's primary weapons. Arizona State also returns its top two running backs, Cornell Canidate and Mike Williams. Canidate is the brother of Washington Redskins running back Trung Canidate.
Northern Arizona, picked fourth in the preseason Big Sky Conference poll, opened with a 44-3 victory over St. Mary's last week.
True freshman Jason Murrietta completed 16-of-21 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns for the Lumberbacks, who led 10-3 at the half before scoring four touchdowns in the third quarter.
Senior Guy Tomcheck, a transfer from Baylor, won the starting job but was replaced in the second quarter. Murrietta threw TD passes of 14 and 10 yards to Johnny Marshall, who had 11 receptions for 128 yards.
The schools are meeting for the first time since 1950, when the Sun Devils posted a 63-0 victory.
Arizona State has only a 16-14-4 lead in the all-time series, but is 8-0-1 in the last nine meetings. The Lumberbacks have not won since 1938.