I am a little confused by Arizona State. They fired a coach who went 6-7 on the year in Dennis Erickson and turn around and hire Todd Graham. Graham came from Pitt and just finished a 6-7 season. They fire a coach who travels from place to place every few years, three schools since 2002, and hire a coach who has that many in three years.
After winning a couple of championships in Miami and taking Oregon State to new heights, Arizona State had high hopes for Erickson. He delivered in season one by sharing the conference title. But after that, nothing was the same.
Graham had great success in Conference USA at Tulsa and very well may have at Pitt had he stayed longer. Arizona State takes a couple of chances with him in that he has yet to coach at the level of play of the Pac-12, and he now has the reputation of jumping for greener pastures when they present themselves.
While Graham hasn’t shown much loyalty to schools and teams, the same is not true for his coaches. His OC, Mike Norvell, has been with him for five years now. On the other side, he has co-defensive coordinators. Paul Randolph has been with him since Rice, 06. The other, Ron West, has not been with Graham for a couple years, but was with him at Tulsa.
I was surprised when quarterback Brock Osweiler decided to go to the NFL a year early. I don’t know who will be leading the offense this fall, but I believe it comes down to two guys. Sophomore Mike Bercovici was the backup last season, but only saw very limited action in two games. Red-shirt freshman Michael Eubank is probably more athletic and was also recruited by Graham while at Pitt.
Running back Cameron Marshall will carry the load for the Sun Devils until whichever new young quarterback gets settled in. I would feel extremely comfortable with that if I were in their shoes. Marshall could make an argument as the best running back in the Pac-12 South Division. His only question will be an ankle injury that required surgery. Good thing there are plenty of capable talented backs behind him.
Running backs can’t do it alone if there are no holes to run through. The line is going to need to come together quickly if the running backs are to get off anything. Unfortunately for them, they are rebuilding. Only two starters are back, and there may be some depth issues as well.
Sometimes a new quarterback can step right in when there are talented receivers to throw to. I believe this helped Washington quarterback Keith Price last season. Whichever young quart back wins this job at Arizona State isn’t going to have the same luxury. The Sun Devils lose their top three wideouts from last year. Their top returning receiver, Jamal Miles, is also used for punt and kick returns as well as lining up in the back field from time to time. After that, the rest of the unit is just a mix of youth and inexperience.
As a longtime Pac-12 follower, I think of defense first when it comes to the Sun Devils. The last couple years, however, have not been of the same caliber defense I have grown accustom to seeing. It was just a couple seasons ago that they had the best run defense in the conference, but last season, they were in the middle at sixth. With a new system in play, I am not sure how things will play out.
The line switches to a three-man front. The pass-rush should be strong with Junior Onyeali on end; that is to say, if he is reinstated. Will Sutton and Davon Coleman were solid players up front last year as well. Add in Mike Pennel, a 340 lb. JC transfer, and the Sun Devils run defense could return to the front of the Pac-12.
The big name on the Arizona State defense the last couple seasons has been Vontaze Burfict. He had been a controversial player in that he was one of the best in all of college football if only he could keep his temper in check. It was not uncommon for him to make a big play and see flags on the field.
He is gone now, along with Colin Parker, Shelly Lyons and Oliver Aaron, and the linebacker position becomes my biggest question for the defense. One plus for them is the return of Brandon McGee, who was lost just before the season started last year. He hasn’t played in over a year, and it remains to be seen if he will return to his 2010 level. I’m not seeing much experience after that. This is why I think this is the defense's weak spot.
The pass defense was 10th in the conference last season, and frankly, one of the worst in the nation. The Corners have plenty of experience with Oshan Irabor and Deveron Carr. Ezekiel Bishop is back after an ACL injury against UC Davis in the first game of last season. Alden Darby should be in the other safety position. I would expect the pass defense to greatly improve this year.
As I mentioned before, Miles returns both kicks and punts and he does it well. He had three returns for scores last season. That’s more than 10 of the other teams in the conference had. Both kicking specialist Alex Garoutte and Josh Hubner return after having fairly solid seasons. Both finished right around 50th in the nation at their respective positions.
There are four teams in the conference with new coaches, and I feel like the uphill battle of transitioning will be the toughest here. Besides running back, there are way too many questions on offense, and I just can’t see the defense winning many games for them either. I think the Sun Devils will be looking at another losing season, except that this one will end before the bowls.
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