Each off-season the Arizona State coaching staff calls out its hardest-working players in training camp.
For two straight years, Arizona State junior linebacker Vilami Laiu Moeakiola has earned a coveted spot on the list, which is called the “Dirty Dozen.”
On Saturday, Moeakiola will be leading the way as the No. 15 Sun Devils try to knock off Texas A&M at NRG Stadium in Houston.
“It’s going to be an exciting game for us, with a great opponent,” said Moeakiola, a standout when he played for Euless Trinity. “I’ve worked hard to get stronger physically and mentally. As a team, we’ve been focused on us and what we can do to improve from last year. We wanted to get to Houston knowing we are prepared to give them our best fight.”
For Moeakiola and his teammates, this week’s matchup is a chance to make a statement against an SEC opponent. It’s also a chance for him to play in front of many family members who will make the drive from DFW to Houston for the game.
“They always have a great tradition at A&M,” Moeakiola said. “They have some great players. I’m definitely excited to play back in Texas. It’s huge just to step back on the soil. Just to compete with my Arizona State brothers. It’s a huge opportunity for us.”
Arizona State finished last season with a win on Texas soil, a 36-31 victory against Duke in El Paso in the Sun Bowl. Moeakiola finished with nine tackles as the Sun Devils scored in the final seconds to beat Duke.
“There was a big carryover from that game when we had a lot of freshmen step up and make big plays for us,” he said. “That win has kept us motivated heading into this season. It made us know we are capable of great things, of making the Pac-12 championship and national championship if we set our minds to it.”
Moeakiola was one of Arizona State’s top playmakers last season, lining up at SPUR linebacker, a hybrid position with responsibility in pass and rush defense.
I’m definitely excited to play back in Texas. It’s huge just to step back on the soil. Just to compete with my Arizona State brothers. It’s a huge opportunity for us.
Arizona State LB Vilami Laiu Moeakiola
“I just try to do my job, make sure everyone is in the right alignment and has the right assignment,” Moeakiola said. “With an experienced secondary, communication has already been set from last year. From Day One, we’ve been hitting it. We know what we have to do, know our assignments. For our defense, it’s kind of become second nature.”
Last season, Moeakiola finished fifth on the team with 72 total tackles (46 solo) and third in tackles for loss — 10.5 for minus-46 yards, including five sacks.
“It’s fun, an honor to play my position and step out on the field and just be able to fly around to wherever the ball goes,” said Moeakiola, who also had two pass breakups, two passes defended, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. “The coaches do a great job putting us in the right places to make plays around the ball.”
Games to watch
Louisville vs. No. 6 Auburn (2:30 p.m. Saturday, KTVT/11): Louisville has an early chance to make a statement for the ACC, but don’t expect the Tigers to lack motivation. Auburn has had months of motivation following a heartbreaking 34-31 Outback Bowl loss to Wisconsin. Auburn’s offense should be fun to watch, with potential star QB Jeremy Johnson taking over this season.
No. 20 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Alabama (7 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/8): The Crimson Tide are back in Arlington, again facing a Big Ten opponent. Alabama kicked off the 2012 season with a 41-14 beat down of Michigan. Alabama’s QB competition has been debated throughout the off-season, but it might not matter. Whoever starts will be backed by a strong running game, led by Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, and a classic ’Bama defense.
No. 1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech (7 p.m. Monday, ESPN): Ohio State’s lone blemish last season? Virginia Tech, 35-21 at the Horseshoe. This time, the Hokies will be playing in front of their home crowd with a national Monday night audience on TV. The Buckeyes have the talent to dominate most teams, but this could be Ohio State’s toughest test for nearly three months until the Buckeyes play No. 5 Michigan State and Michigan to close out the season.
1 Time a team has received a unanimous No. 1 vote in the AP preseason poll (which began in 1950) — Ohio State this year. It is also the first year in poll history that Texas, Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State and Florida have all entered a season unranked, a fact pointed out by CBS reporter Jon Solomon on twitter.
16 FBS head coaches making debuts this week, led by Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, Florida’s Jim McElwain, Nebraska’s Mike Riley and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst.
▪ “Probably one of the recruits.” — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, joking about who was calling him when his cellphone started ringing while he was in the middle of answering a question during a news conference.
▪ “The quarterback situation, we’ll announce the starter when the first guy takes the snap. It’s still very close. Both guys are performing very well.” — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said in his opening statement at his weekly news conference. Reporters went on to ask 12 more questions about the Buckeyes’ quarterback competition between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett.
Tweet of the off-season
“For the record, I have been working on LSU football all day so this is not me but an imposter at Tom Brady’s hearing.”
LSU coach Les Miles (@LSUCoachMiles) tweeted after a courtroom drawing of New England QB Tom Brady showed a mysterious background character wearing a purple jacket and white cap resembling Miles.
Rising, falling, holding steady
Rising: Blood pressure. Feel that slight anxiety? That’s the return of college football, where the start of the season is incredible. But you are also a split second away from your favorite team’s season goals evaporating with a muffed punt, blown coverage or bad penalty. (up arrow)
Falling: SEC prestige, especially the SEC West. The conference has taken a beating from fans and media members across the country after lackluster showings to close out last season. (down arrow)
Holding Steady: Playoff. We are entering the second season of the College Football Playoff era. Get ready for a season full of early playoff predictions and verbal sparring — how much should early conference showdowns matchups (Texas A&M vs. Arizona State and TCU vs. Minnesota) matter to the Playoff committee? (dash mark)
Power 5 conference grades
ACC: C With No. 10 Florida State its highest ranked team and just three total teams in the AP Top 25, the ACC doesn’t command much respect. North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Louisville all have opportunities to boost the conference this week.
Big Ten: B The Big Ten also has just three ranked teams. But Michigan State is No. 5, and No. 1 Ohio State is the clear favorite this year after defeating Alabama and Oregon to win the first ever College Football Playoff last season. But conference depth could hurt the Buckeyes’ chances to repeat if they stumble at all this year.
Big 12: C+ While Texas may be another year away from competing on a championship level, the Big 12 still has several teams capable of wowing the nation. TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma all have teams with a shot at the playoffs. But not having a conference championship game hurt last season and could be a factor again this year.
Pac-12: B+ With six ranked teams entering the year and the best bowl winning percentage out of the Power 5 conferences last season (6-2), the Pac-12 has started to close the perception gap with the SEC. And the West Coast teams will have multiple chances to build on last year’s success.
SEC: B+ While it has more ranked teams than any other conference entering the season (eight), the SEC has lost a step and no longer seems invincible. The SEC was 7-5 in bowl games last year. But ranked SEC teams were 2-5, and the conference was 2-4 in bowl games against ranked teams. Still, the SEC is just a few marquee wins early in the year away from a return to clear top-dog status.
RB Ezekiel Elliott, junior, Ohio State: Last season, 273 carries for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns. (dash mark)
QB Trevone Boykin, senior, TCU: Last season, 301-for-492 passing for 3,901 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; 152 carries for 707 yards and eight touchdowns. (dash mark)
RB Nick Chubb, sophomore, Georgia: Last season, 219 carries for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. (dash mark)