Arizona St. Sun Devils
On the surface you might think the 8-5, 5-4 Arizona State Sun Devils could win the Pacific-12 Conference South Division. However whenever this team has lofty expectations they live up to the hype for half the season before spiraling to the finish line. ASU’s an assumed contender again so if the Devils can’t at least match last year’s success then Todd Graham could begin to feel his seat warming up.
Two of four returning starters are junior quarterback Taylor Kelly (ninth in the country in passing efficiency during 2013) and senior running back Cameron Marshall have Arizona State excited that the Sun Devils can start strong and finish fine instead of freefalling. Don’t however think turmoil or injuries will vanish. In order for ASU to have a stellar season they must bask the adversity. As good as the Devils starters are depth is an issue (wide receivers senior Jamal Miles and junior Kevin Ozier headline a thin receiving group) and if Graham has to go three deep into a position scars will surface and turnovers could be abound as well.
The defense is not rebuilding with All-American senior defensive tackle Will Sutton returning for one more hoorah, along with six others, foregoing a chance to go high in the 2013 NFL Draft. With the likes of defensive linemen sophomore Carl Bradford and senior Jaxon Hood too Arizona State’s front four might be better than Jacksonville Jaguars’. All three are good enough to be selected in the first three rounds of next year’s NFL Draft so expect relentless brute force at the opposing QB to be their focal calling card making senior safety Chris Young’s job less stressful.
Surprisingly the Sun Devils gave up and average of 37 points per game in defeats last season. While most of that can be pinned on the defense special teams is the often unforeseen beneficiary of good and poor outcomes. It all starts with kickoff coverage and return. Field position is the name of the game and ASU’s specialists may go as Miles goes in the return game. Taking kickoffs and punts Miles will be the main player giving the Devils great or subpar beginnings to their drive. Senior placekicker Alex Garoutte struggled making 6-of-11 field goals after nailing 15-of-22 during 2011.
An FCS opponent is the only non-conference layup for Arizona State who gets Notre Dame at Cowboys Stadium and Wisconsin at home. Pac-12 Tempe visitors include Arizona, Colorado, Oregon State and Washington. The Sun Devils should be able to gather at least four wins if not five there and without Oregon on the schedule and seven of their first eight contests not on the road, ASU needs to get off to a rapid start. 5-3 won’t cut it. After an open date the Devils close at Washington State, at Utah, the Beavers, at UCLA and the Wildcats. Seven victories, not counting the bowl game, could be the cut off for a vastly talented group that surely will disappoint us again.