The Arizona State football team wrapped up its week-long practice at Camp Tontozona outside of Payson on Saturday and head coach Todd Graham and his staff are pleased heading into the season opener on September 5 hosting the Sacramento State Hornets.
Following the opening week matchup against a FCS foe, the Sun Devils embark on one of the toughest four-game stretches in all of college football and ASU Vice President for University Athletics Steve Patterson couldn't be happier:
With the loaded non-conference schedule and the always tough Pac-12, I think our football team has one of the marquee schedules in the nation. I'm looking forward to the chance to prove ourselves against some of the toughest teams in the country, and this is yet another reason for Sun Devil fans to be excited about the 2013 season.
If they can emerge 4-1 or even 3-2 after the opening stretch against three BCS bowl teams and the 2012 preseason No. 1 team, the Devils will be well on their way to Pasadena for their first Rose Bowl appearance in 17 years.
The buzz around Graham and the future of the Sun Devil program is huge, here is your in-depth look at everything you need to know about Arizona State football but were afraid to ask.
Bleacher Report college football royalty talk about Arizona State's upcoming season.
The Arizona State Sun Devils regular season consisted of playing the other two Division I football programs in the state. They opened against Northern Arizona University and closed against rival University of Arizona in Tucson.
The Devils hung 63 points on the Lumberjacks out of the Big Sky Conference and scored 24 points in the fourth quarter to take the Territorial Cup back home to Tempe.
The season started with great promise as Arizona State began the season at 5-1 with their only loss coming on the road to Missouri. The Devils scored 13 points in the fourth quarter but came up short with a missed field goal and an interception in the final minutes of the game.
They averaged over 40 points per game in the first five games—then came Oregon. The crowd was electric, the "House of Heat" was packed with over 71,000 college football fans, most of them in black "Fear the Fork" t-shirts in 100-degree heat.
Will Sutton forced a Marcus Mariota fumble on the second play of the game but he was also injured on the same play and sat out the following two games. Quarterback Taylor Kelly took advantage of the turnover and quickly scored a touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage.
The Ducks went on to score six unanswered touchdowns and eventually won 43-21.
The Oregon game was a harbinger of things to come as the Devils went on to lose three more heartbreaking games that they should have won.
All was not lost in Tempe. The hapless Washington State Cougars (2-9, 0-8 Pac-12) were coming to town.
The Sun Devils final three games were nothing short of lightning in a bottle. They scored 46, 41 and 62 points in a remarkable display of offensive firepower.
Looking back on the the Sun Devils Pac-10 championship seasons in '86, '96 and 2007, they didn't win both the Territorial Cup and their bowl game in the same year—in 2012, they did.
The Arizona State football team is returning 16 starters from last year including offensive standouts Taylor Kelly and Marion Grice.
Here is the latest offensive depth chart that will be updated once it becomes available.
1. RS JR Taylor Kelly 6-2, 203
2. RS SO Michael Eubank 6-6, 246
1. SR Marion Grice 6-0, 204
RS FR Terrell Davis 6-0, 232
2. SO D.J. Foster 5-11, 199
RS JR Deantre Lewis 5-11, 188
X—RS SR Kevin Ozier 6-2, 200
RS SO Gary Chambers 6-3, 200
Y—RS SR Alonzo Agwuenu 6-4, 212
SO Blake Covey 6-0, 177
Z—SO Richard Smith 5-9, 165
RS FR Frederick Gammage 5-10, 168
1. RS SR Chris Coyle 6-3, 222
2. SR Darwin Rogers 6-4, 244
LT—RS SR Evan Finkenberg 6-4, 293
SO Evan Goodman 6-4, 306
LG—RS JR Sil Ajawara 6-4, 297
RS SO Devin Goodman 6-1, 279
C—SR Kody Koebensky 6-3, 290
SO Nick Kelly 6-3, 274
RG—RS SO Vi Teofilo 6-3, 314
RS FR Stephon McCray 6-3, 299
RT—RS JR Jamil Douglas 6-4, 303
RS JR Tyler Sulka 6-5, 277
The defense is returning standouts in Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and Alden Darby.
DE—RS SR Gannon Conway 6-4, 261
SR Davon Coleman 6-2, 276
NOSE—RS SR Will Sutton 6-1, 288
SR Jake Sheffield 6-3, 272
DT—SO Jaxon Hood 6-0, 287
RS SO Mo Latu 6-3, 338
DEVIL—RS JR Carl Bradford 6-1, 241
SR Kipeli Koniseti 6-2, 235
SPUR—RS SR Anthony Jones 6-1, 212
RS FR Carlos Mendoza 6-1, 219
SAM—SR Steffon Martin 6-1, 236
RS FR Salamo Fiso 6-0, 228
WILL—SR Chris Young 6-0, 233
RS SR Grandville Taylor 6-0, 221
BC—SR Osahon Irabor 5-11, 181
RS SO Lloyd Carrington 6-0, 188
FC—RS SR Robert Nelson 5-11, 169
RS SO Rashad Wadood 5-11, 186
BS—SR Alden Darby 5-11, 192
SR Shane McCullen 6-2, 200
FS—RS FR SR Laiu Moeakiola 6-0, 209
RS SO Ezekiel Bishop 5-11, 194
While everybody and their mother will be focusing on the big man on the Arizona State defensive line, Will Sutton, devilbacker Carl Bradford will come in and steal your lunch and you'll never know what hit you.
Bradford was one of the most underrated linebackers in college football in 2012 and is looking to get noticed in his redshirt junior season.
The new players that are looking to make an impact run the gamut from true freshmen to a litany of junior college transfers.
Look for true freshmen Marcus Ball and Chans Cox to get plenty of playing time on the defensive side of the ball along with transfer students Marcus Hardison and Damarious Randall. The wide receiver position also holds plenty of room for new players to step up.
True freshmen Cameron Smith and Ellis Jefferson are impressing Coach Graham but redshirt sophomore Jaelen Strong is having the best fall practice of the newcomers.
There has been a minor shakeup on the coaching staff for the Devils.
The biggest addition to the staff is Sherman Morris who was named the Arizona State Assistant Athletics Director for Recruiting in March. Morris comes from LSU where he spent six years as the Director of Player Personnel under Les Miles.
Coach Todd Graham's biggest moves were on defense. Associate dead coach/defensive coordinator Paul Randolph will coach the linebackers while safeties coach Chris Ball was promoted to co-defensive coordinator.
Graham brought on Jackie Shipp to run the defensive line. Shipp spent 14 years as the defensive line coach for the Oklahoma Sooners and coached in four national championships.
Chris Thomsen was hired from Texas Tech to be running backs coach in January but was moved to offensive line coach in March and Bo Graham was named running backs coach.
Former offensive standouts Rudy Burgess and Aaron Pflugrad have also joined Graham's staff.
Here is the complete schedule for the 2013 season:
Thursday, September 5 Sacramento State
Saturday, September 14 Wisconsin (Blackout)
Saturday, September 21 @ Stanford
Saturday, September 28 USC (Maroon Monsoon)
Saturday, October 5 Notre Dame (@Texas Stadium)
Saturday, October 12 Colorado
Saturday, October 19 Washington
Thursday, October 31 @ Washington State
Saturday, November 9 @ Utah
Saturday, November 16 Oregon State
Saturday, November 23 @ UCLA
Saturday, November 30 Arizona
Saturday, December 7 Pac-12 Championship Game
Running back Marion Grice did it all for the Sun Devils in 2012. In the final game of the year against Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, he tallied a career-high 159 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
He finished the year with 11 rushing touchdowns and eight receiving, the most by a running back in 2012. His 19 total touchdowns tied him for 12th most in the FBS—he tied Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly also had a banner day the last time he took the field against Navy. He completed 17-of-19 for 268 yards and four touchdowns. His completion rate of 89.5 was the best of his career as was the 277.4 rating.
He also contributed with 81 yards rushing on seven attempts and even scored his first rushing TD of his career. His 29 passing touchdowns on the season was one short of Andrew Walter's record of 30.
Senior tight end Chris Coyle also set a record of his own, his 57 receptions broke Zach Miller's school record of 56 by a tight end. Look for a solid, more cohesive team in the upcoming season, Coyle said it best with this quote:
We’re working hard, but also getting closer as a team, this year is going to be really special and this team is closer than it’s ever been in the past. I know we’ve had our ups and downs in past years, but this year we have so much depth, we have so much potential, and everyone is coming around to become that team that we’ve been wanting to be.
Will Sutton is the best college defensive player not named Jadaveon Clowney.
Sutton missed three games last season and still finished the season with 13 sacks, one-half sack behind the leader in the FBS and his 96 yards on sacks ranks him fourth in the nation.
He became ASU's 18th Consensus All-American in 2012 after he posted 63 tackles, including 23.5 for loss and 13 sacks. He was also the recipient of the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award and the prestigious Morris Trophy, as well as the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Defensive MVP.
He finished his junior year ranked second in the nation in 1.92 tackles for loss per game and third nationally with 1.08 sacks per game.
He has been named to four Most Outstanding Player watchlists including:
- Outland Trophy (nation’s most outstanding interior lineman)
- Nagurski Trophy (national defensive player of the year)
- Bednarik Award (nation’s most outstanding defensive player)
- Maxwell Award (nation’s most outstanding player)
As good as Sutton performed last year, the defense still had issues stopping the run. They allowed 182.85 yards per game on the ground which was 10th in the Pac-12 and 81st in the country.
Head coach Todd Graham's big focus this year will be stopping the run. Once that is added to their repertoire, this defense will be unstoppable. Sutton agreed with Graham stating:
That's the number-one thing. That's it. That's all we need to do. Once we stop the run -- because people already know what we can do in the pass game. We were top-three in almost everything when it came to the pass: sacks, interceptions and pass defense. We don't have to worry about the pass, we'll get to that quarterback. It's just stopping the run.
The kicking game for the Sun Devils has been abysmal the past couple years. Returning kickers Alex Garoutte and Jon Mora battled each other last year to see who could perform worse and neither was the clear winner.
Coach Todd Graham went out and recruited one of the best kickers in high school to hopefully put all the drama of the past years to rest.
Zane Gonzalez brings a strong and accurate leg to Tempe. As a senior at Deer Park, he connected on all 10 of his kicks, and sent 44 of his 62 kickoffs for touchbacks. His career-long field goal came from 48 yards.
ESPN's Insider Scouting Report had positive things to say about Gonzalez, "Zane is top 5 field goal kicker in the nation. He has won many field goal competitions and has range out to 55-60 yards off the ground. His ability to focus and perform is very impressive."
Graham is excited about Gonzalez's ability stating, "Our place kicking can not do anything (but) get better, and I think he is really good, I think he's the real deal."
There have been several games in the past few years that were lost due to poor field goal kicking, if Gonzalez can contribute as expected, the Sun Devils will win those close games instead of lose them.
Can Arizona State win the Pac-12 South?
The southern California schools will have plenty to say about that. The defending Pac-12 South Champion, UCLA Bruins will have a rough road traveling to Nebraska in week two then having to travel to Stanford and Oregon in consecutive weeks, not to mention the final regular season game in the Coliseum.
The USC Trojans look to be a more formidable foe as they have a considerably easier schedule than the Bruins and the Sun Devils. They open up with four "gimmes" in Hawaii, Washington State, Boston College and Utah State. Their only speed bumps look to be traveling to Notre Dame and Arizona State. They host in-state rivals Stanford and UCLA and miss out on Oregon and Washington.
Can Arizona State return to the Rose Bowl?
With the addition of the Pac-12 Championship Game, it will be more difficult for the Devils to return to The Grandaddy of Them All in Pasadena, but it's absolutely feasible.
Stanford has a doozie of a schedule facing Notre Dame, Arizona State, both Oregon schools and both southern California schools. If they return to the championship game, it will be a miracle. The Ducks, on the other hand, are a completely different animal. UCLA and Stanford are the only two teams that will give Oregon a challenge.
I see the Ducks going to the Pac-12 Championship Game but will be rusty as they haven't played a quality team in a while.
Legendary Arizona State football coach Frank Kush said it best: "If you don't beat Arizona, you can't consider your season a success."
The last time the Sun Devils won the Rose Bowl, they lost to Arizona that very season. When they have beaten the Wildcats and won the Conference, they went on to lose their bowl game.
In Todd Graham's first season at head coach, he hoisted both the Territorial Cup and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Trophy over his head.
Is this the beginning of a new era, a dynasty perhaps?
After seeing a barrage of early 2014 commits, I think it's safe to say the Graham and Director of Recruiting Sherman Morris are fluently "speaking victory" and taking on "any challenge."
I see the Sun Devils finishing 10-2 losing to Stanford and Notre Dame in Texas while making quick work of BCS hopefuls Wisconsin, USC and UCLA. With the combination of stellar offense, gritty defense and actually making clutch field goals, I see the Devils coming out on top of the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The Ducks are everybody's darling with a No. 3 preseason ranking and a top-ranked quarterback in Marcus Mariota but I see Arizona State exacting revenge on the Oregon for last year's embarrassment in Tempe.
Speaking of revenge, how sweet would it be to meet up with the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl after that heart-breaking loss 17 years ago? Jake Plummer would be happy.
David is the Featured Columnist of Arizona State Athletics for B/R. Follow him on Twitter at @asudave.