VOTE: Who is the greatest QB-to-WR combo in ASU history?Posted: Updated:
Rock the vote and embrace debate, Sun Devil Nation.
All this week, the Speak of the Devils crew will be bringing you a different topic surrounding the illustrious history of Sun Devil football. We'll pose a burning question, lay out the cases for the contenders, and then let you VOTE on who you think is the best ever.
Polls will close on Friday, June 13, and you can log on to SpeakoftheDevilsASU.com on Saturday June 14th to find out the winners.
All good? Great. Let's kick things off with a tough one, given how many great options there are:
Who is the greatest single-season quarterback-wide receiver combination in Sun Devil history?
Joe Spagnola to J.D. Hill (1970)
In suitable fashion, one of ASU’s more underrated great teams of all-time was generaled by one of the program’s most underrated performers in Joe Spagnola. The senior helped orchestrate an undefeated season in 1970 as the Devils finished with an 11-0 record, claimed the Western Athletic Conference championship, the program’s first bowl appearance in 20 years, and a No. 6 postseason poll ranking along the way. Spagnola’s final campaign in Tempe capped off an excellent three-year tenure as starter as he passed for 2,146 yards with 19 touchdowns, becoming only the second player in school history to surpass 2,000 career passing yards while falling just one touchdown throw short of tying the single-season ASU record. For his efforts, “Spaghetti Joe” was named the WAC Offensive Player of the Year and, for the second consecutive season, a First-Team All-WAC selection.
A huge component of Spagnola’s successes and ASU’s overall offensive prowess was the triumphant return of receiver J.D. Hill, who missed the previous season for disciplinary seasons. Despite receiving all-conference recognition earlier in his career, Hill had to work his way back into the good graces of head coach Frank Kush, but by the conclusion of the 1970 season everyone was all smiles as Hill became the first in school history to pass the 1,000-yard receiving mark and set school single-season records for receptions (61) receiving yards (1,009) and touchdown catches (11). A First-Team All-WAC selection, Hill’s remarkable senior season gained attention on a national scale as well, as he earned First-Team All-America recognition by Sporting News and Time, making him the first offensive player in Arizona State history to earn First-Team All-America accolades.
Danny White to Steve Holden (1972)
After leading ASU to a victory in the inaugural Fiesta Bowl during his sophomore season in 1971, White suffered absolutely no second-year slump as his first full season as the Sun Devils’ starter culminated in a 10-2 record, the team’s fourth consecutive WAC championship, and a victory in the second Fiesta Bowl. Individually, White took home Honorable Mention All-WAC distinction after breaking the ASU single-season record with his 23 touchdown passes, while throwing for what at the time was the second-highest single-season passing yardage total by a Sun Devil (2,196).
Including Sun Devil legend Danny White in this list is an absolute no-brainer, but deciding between the targets he used during his junior and senior seasons was a challenge with Steve Holden narrowly edging the colossal combination of Greg Hudson and Morris Owens in 1973. A big-play dynamo, Holden broke Hill’s single-season record by catching 12 touchdown passes as a senior with an impressive average of 21.7-yards per reception. In all, Holden hauled in 42 receptions for 911 yards, nearly joining Hill in what at the time was very rare 1,000-yard receiving company. According to Sports-Reference.com, Holden ranked third nationally in touchdown catches, fourth in yards per reception and eighth in receiving yards, on his way to First-Team All-America honors from Time and the Football Writers Association of America. As he did his sophomore and junior seasons, Holden netted First-Team All-WAC honors at wide receiver while also garnering first-team recognition as a kick returner for the second straight year.
Jake Plummer to Keith Poole (1996)
One of the most beloved fan favorites in program history, “The Snake” put the exclamation point on an already excellent career by leading the Sun Devils to the Pacific-10 Conference championship and a Rose Bowl berth against Ohio State. An Honorable Mention All-American his junior season, Plummer exploded to national prominence his senior season, finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting while also earning First-Team All-America by honors by the FWAA and being named the Pac-10 Conference Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 2,776 yards and 24 touchdowns – both standing at the time as the second-best single-season efforts in ASU history. Thanks to his role through ASU’s historic 1996 season, Plummer ended his Sun Devil career atop the school’s all-time charts for career passing yards (8,827) and touchdown passes (65).
Though his 1,036-yard junior season was statistically superior, Poole’s senior year was absolutely no slouch as he was named a Second-Team All-American by the Associated Press after catching 47 passes for 867 yards with 11 touchdowns as Plummer’s preferred target. A First-Team All-Pac-10 selection alongside Plummer for the second consecutive year, Poole ended his ASU tenure tied for the all-time school record for career touchdown receptions (25), while finishing third all-time in receiving yards (2,691) and fourth in receptions (140). Last but not least, Poole’s penultimate college game produced one of the most photogenic moments in Sun Devil history with his celebratory end zone pose in front of Arizona cornerback Chris McAlister during ASU’s 56-14 demolition of the Wildcats in Tucson.
Andrew Walter to Shaun McDonald (2002)
Dirk Koetter's first year at ASU in 2001 was a time of transition. His high-flying offense flashed brilliance at times, but the team stumbled to a 4-7 record. However, there were signs of better days ahead. Sophomore wide receiver Shaun McDonald emerged as a top playmaker, posting 1,104 yards, and redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Walter made his debut, making a pair of starts.
The next year, that duo rewrote the record books and helped Koetter get the Sun Devils back to a bowl game with their highest win total in four years. While aiding a bit by the year's 14 games, Walter nevertheless shattered ASU's previous passing records, throwing for a then-record 3,877 yards and 28 touchdowns. McDonald set school records that still stand to this day with 87 catches for 1,405 yards, and his 13 touchdown receptions were just one shy of Doug Allen's record.
Andrew Walter to Derek Hagan (2004)
McDonald left school early for the NFL Draft after that memorable 2002 season, but that didn't slow Walter down. Derek Hagan became Walter's go to guy, topping 1,000 yards receiving in 2003, but that was merely prelude to their explosive 2004 performance.
Hagan surpassed 100 yards in the season's first three games, scoring five touchdowns along the way, and it was off to the races. He added four more 100-yard games from Walter over the year's final five regular season games, and even though Walter missed the Sun Bowl due to injury, Hagan had arguably his best game of the year, with nine catches for 182 yards in the win over Purdue. He finished with 83 receptions (still second-all time to McDonald) and 1,248 yards and 10 touchdowns. Despite missing the bowl game, Walter threw for a school record 30 touchdowns, breaking the Pac-10 career record with 85.
Brock Osweiler to Gerell Robinson (2011)
This combo started slow, but finished with a vengeanace.
Through his first three years, Robinson had flashed his potential but never came close to realizing it. That held true early in 2011, as he had just 19 receptions through the first five games. In Week 6 against Utah, Robinson topped 100 yards for the first time in his career, and from then on was Osweiler's go to man.
Beginning that night against the Utes, Osweiler found "G-Rob" 42 times for 798 yards, including an 11-catch, 199-yard effort against Arizona, over the next six games. Robinson capped the year with a historic 13-catch, 241-yard showing in the Las Vegas Bowl, the second-highest single-game total in ASU history. For the year, they connected 77 times for 1,397 yards (second-highest single season receiving total) and seven touchdowns, with Osweiler's 4,036 yards still standing as the one and only time an ASU quarterback hit the 4,000-yard mark.
Taylor Kelly to Jaelen Strong (2013)
Kelly had a terrific first season as a starter in 2012, made all the more impressive by the lack of talent at wide receiver. Last season, he got a true No. 1 target in Jaelen Strong and nearly made history.
They connected for a touchdown in their first game together, and soon reeled off five straight 100-yard games. Strong's blend of size (6-foot-4) and speed made him a match-up nightmare, and the backshoulder chemistry shown with Kelly made it an nearly unstoppable weapon. A leg injury slowed Strong in the middle of the year, taking him off what was a school-record pace, but he helped ASU keep the Territorial Cup with 142 yards against Arizona. Strong finished the year with 75 catches (fourth-highest in single-season ASU history), 1,122 yards (sixth) and seven touchdowns from Kelly.