How will Dennis Erickson and the ASU Sun Devils rebound from their dismal 5-7 record in 2008 ? I was pretty surprised when ESPN's Ted Miller wrote about top returning Sack Master in the PAC-10, ASU's own Dexter Davis.
Dexter Davis, LB Mike Nixon, DB Omar Bolden, and DT Lawrence Guy will shine this season for what will be a top tier defense in the pac 10 this season. Mark it down! These guys are talented and are playing well for Defensive Coordinator Craig Bray. This side of the ball ranked third in team defense last season and are gunning for the top spot this year.
On the offensive side, no one is talking about QB Danny Sullivan. Yes, he is inexperienced but he has studied behind former ASU and current Dallas Cowboy QB Rudy Carpenter.
'Sully' has educated himself under this offense for 3 years, and has shown flashes and signs of his quality against Texas in the 2007 Holiday Bowl.
What will ASU do in 2009? Take a look inside to see what Erickson will do in Tempe this year.
Senior QB Danny Sullivan has learned how to win behind former QB and current Dallas Cowboy Rudy Carpenter. He performed well in limited duty for the Devils in the 2007 Holiday Bowl, completing 7-14 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown against Texas.
He also thrived during the spring separating himself from Sophomore Samson Szakacsy and 6ft 8in Freshman sensation Brock Osweiler.
'Sully' has had time to grow in Erickson's system and has had QB coach Rich Olson guiding him for the past three seasons.
Of all the rookie quarterbacks in the Pac 10, Sullivan has the best tools around him to carry some of the weight off of his shoulders.
Shawn Lauvao has proven to be the solid anchor to the Devils OL that coach Gregg Smith has been looking for in Tempe.
The Hawaiian has made 21 consecutive starts at both guard and tackle moving permanently to LT barring any injuries.
Brother of Stanford Cardinal star RB Toby Gerhart, Sun Devil C Garth Gerhart is a smaller mold of Alex Mack with great technique and a good first punch.
Sophomore Zack Schlink and Junior John Hargis will solidify the guard positions for the devils and have the continuity that Erickson has been looking for.
The running game returns Dimitri Nance in the backfield again. Nance led the Maroon and Gold in rushing, although that is not saying much, with 410 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Obviously those number are going to have to increase. But, as a fan you have to like the yards per carry numbers. (3.9 avg.)
Look out for H.S. All-American Ryan Bass, from Corona Centennial (CA), to play a big role in the ground attack for Sparky this season.
SR Chris McGaha has been touted as the best Wide Receiver in the Pac 10 this season over Rogers at OSU and Williams at USC.
McGaha has shown his incredible hands on many occasions and for the Devils to be successful this upcoming fall, the RS SR will have to come up big a number of times to keep the sticks moving and put points on the board.
In his previous three seasons in the 'Valley of the Sun' Chris only caught 5 td's. However, his possession receiver status reveals itself with his 112 catches and avg of 41 yards a game.
Fellow Sr Kyle Williams and Junior Kerry Taylor will stretch defenses with their speedy and crisp routes on the inside. Both players are a threat on special teams as well.
The surprise of the Wide Receivers corps might be former H.S. All American Gerrell Robinson of Hamilton (AZ).
He has yet to make an impact for the Devils but I forsee a big season from this tall outside threat.
SR Defensive End and QB Sacking machine Dexter Davis is poised to shine in the Devils top defense in 2009. He is the leading sack recorder in the Pac-10 with 27.5 sacks entering 2009.
Freshman All-American selection DT Lawrence Guy has added more weight and has kept his speed on the Defensive Line and will look to create a good inside out duo with Davis.
Look for DTs Sai'a Falahola, Otis Jones, and Freshman Corey Adams to contribute plugging up the middle.
Opposite of Davis at the end spot could be James Brooks who turned a number of heads on the ASU coaching staff this spring, or JUCO trasnfer Dean DeLeone.
SR Travis Goethel worked at Middle Linebacker during the Spring to try and replace Morris Wooten. There is no doubt that Goethel will play for Bray this season. The Oceanside product has played in all 38 games on campus; starting 29 of them will play.
The question is will 5 star All American Vontaze Burfict start from day one in Tempe.
The Corona Centennial product could join fellow LB's and former high school team mates Shelly Lyons and Brandon McGee as a formidable tackling unit.
Other standouts include former Los Angeles Dodger minor leaguer Mike Nixon, the return of Gerald Munns who did not play last year due to personal issues.
A suprise in this group might be Oliver Aaron. Aaron has tried to play safety and LB in his two seasons at ASU and has finally found a spot at weakside LB for defensive coordinator Craig Bray.
PAC-10 Defensive Player of the week vs Stanford, LB Gerald Munns dealt with off the field issues revolving round his family and ended up missing the rest of the season. In 2009, Munns will be ready physically and mentally for Dennis Erickson.
The secondary is going to be much improved but unfortunately this area might be the weakest on a defense that is looking to shutdown high powered offenses.
The Defensive Line is going to add a lot of pressure to help the secondary. Omar Bolden has been known to talk the talk, however, it might be time for fans in Tempe to beg to see him, "walk the walk".
Terrell Carr and LeQuan Lewis will compete opposite Bolden for the CB spot.
The safety position looks to be the biggest improvement on this side of the ball. Ryan McFoy has gone back to Safety and was a delight to see this Spring. Clint Floyd has shown bright spots even back to last season before his injury during the USC game.
Scottsdale native, Max Tabach will compete for the SS safety spot following his recovery from knee surgery.
The 2007 Lou Groza award winner, Tom Weber had a down year in 2008. With his concentration split between punting, place kicking, and kick offs the All-American in 2007 could not replicate his performance last season.
This season Erickson wanted Weber to just place kick and kick off and find another punter. However, Weber improve so much in punting that he will most likely be their guy again in '09.
The return game for the Sun Devils has speed. Whether it is Kyle Williams, Kerry Taylor, or Omar Bolden the speed and breakaway ability is there as Williams has showed in the past on punts and kick offs.
The Sun Devils will break in a new QB just like most other teams in the PAC 10 in 2009, however the offensive line will be the most improved group for Dennis Erickson and the Maroon and Gold.
Dimitri Nance and the shifty Ryan Bass will provide a solid one-two punch that will control the clock and keep Craig Bray's top ranked defense rested and off the field .
The defense will be the story for this darkhorse team. The match up with Georgia will catch everyones eye, however, most suspect the Sun Devils will fall to the Bulldogs once more in 2009. But, Erickson and Co. will have to watch out for Idaho State and UL Lafayette to avoid any similar slip ups to UNLV last season.
2-1 is an almost guarantee start for the Sun Devils however the fourth game of the season might be the most important contest of their '09 campaign.
The Oregon State game in 2007 was an exciting comeback that wrote the story for the rest of the Devils' Holiday Bowl season fairy tale. The Beavs might enter the '09 tilt with a 4-0 record and gunning to unseat the Trojans.
If ASU wins this game then Sparky will be smiling with a 8-4, 9-3 record. A loss and that might spell D.O.O.M. for Erickson and the Devils while they sink to another 5-7 or 6-6 season maybe clinging onto a bowl spot.