In 1957, there was no truly viable shot for the Sun Devils to win the national championship.
Arizona State did not play in a high-caliber bowl; in fact, the Sun Devils didn’t play in any bowl.
But still today to some—and to all fans and critics at the time—the 1957 season is one of the absolute best in program history.
Under eventual College Football Hall of Fame head coach Dan Devine in his third—and what would prove to be his final—season at Arizona State, the Sun Devils continued the program’s ascension under Devine after winning eight and nine wins the previous two seasons respectively.
In 1957, the Sun Devils cruised to a perfect 10-0 record—a single-season wins record at the time for Arizona State. Only twice since has a Sun Devil team finished a season undefeated, making the ’57 group something of legend well over half a century later.
The season also featured the first time that the Sun Devils would be nationally ranked during the final season voting polls, with ASC finishing 12th in both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls.
Also on a national scale, among major college programs only Arizona State and Auburn escaped the 1957 season with perfect records fully intact.
The Sun Devils’ lineup was spectacularly stacked—especially in the backfield—as ASC featured the nationally-dominant rushing combination of Leon Burton and Bobby Mulgado in addition to John Hangartner at quarterback. Standout pass-catcher Clancy Osborne starred at tight end, while starters Dave Fonner, Bart Jankans, Ken Kerr and Bill Spanko were all-conference honors recipients during their college careers.
For the year, Burton was the key statistical standout as he was the national leader in rushing (1,151 yards), points scored (96) and yards-per-carry average (9.62). Hangartner broke the school’s single-season passing yardage mark (1,203), largely due to the all-league effort of Osborne with 20 receptions for 351 yards and three touchdown catches. As he was his entire Sun Devil career, Mulgado was Mr. Everything, leading the Devils in punting, returning two punts for touchdowns, hauling in a team-high six interceptions, while also rushing for 681 yards and eight scores.
The season started with a 28-0 shutout at Wichita State, followed by a 19-7 victory in Tempe over Idaho. The Sun Devils then travelled to San Jose State and left with a smashing 44-6 win and followed that with a 35-26 victory over Hardin-Simmons in Tempe.
The Devils picked up major steam at midseason, starting with a 66-0 drubbing on the road at San Diego State, then a second shutout to the tune of 21-0 back home against New Mexico State. ASC would then travel to UTEP and bull their way to a 43-7 victory.
Arizona State’s final three games were all played at home, first with a 53-13 win over Montana State, then another shutout—the fourth on the year for the Devils—in the form of a 41-0 victory over Pacific.
With a spotless 9-0 record, ASC faced the conclusion of the regular season with the arrival of rival Arizona in Tempe, an opponent that had claimed three of the previous for matchups. By the time all was said and done, the Wildcats returned to Tucson with their collective tails between their legs as the Sun Devils pounded Arizona 47-7, which at the time was the second-largest victory the Sun Devils had ever laid upon the ‘Cats.
The lopsided nature of ASC’s season is truly staggering, as the Sun Devils led the nation in scoring (39.7 points per game and rushing (444.9 yards per game) while allowing a mere 66 points on the season—26 of which were scored in one game—with eight of 10 games resulting in seven or fewer points by the opposition. The 66 total points allowed by far-and-away remains the record low in Arizona State history.
Both Burton and Mulgado would ultimately be inducted into ASU’s Sports Hall of Fame, while Devine, as well as a 1957 Sun Devil assistant coach by the name of Frank Kush, would later be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Mulgado also had his No. 27 retired at ASU shortly after his college career ended.
After the season and after compiling a 27-3-1 record over three seasons, Devine left to become head coach at Missouri, opening the door for Kush to etch his name into college football history starting the next season.
The impact the 1957 squad was felt equally through the halls of Arizona State’s campus as it was through the bleachers of the Sun Devils’ home field of Goodwin Stadium as the gridiron success that year largely factored into the transition from a college to a university that would occur at Arizona State over the year thereafter.