Part 6 of the series: Proven or Unproven quarterbacks in the Pacific 10 takes a stop in the Valley of the Sun and Arizona State.
This season in Tempe will look quite different than the past four seasons. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter passed through his four years as ASU starting QB with 10,491 yards and 81 touchdowns.
The former Westlake (CA) High School star was also sacked 146 times in his four seasons as the Sun Devil quarterback.
Although Carpenter put up sensational numbers for the maroon and gold, the saying "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," must have been taken seriously by the Sun Devil fans regarding Rudy.
In 2006, coming off a season the likes of which no freshman quarterback has ever had in the history of the game (175.1 QB Rating), Rudy Carpenter was not even named the starting QB following fall camp.
Famously, former head coach Dirk Koetter flip-flopped a day later, following a "leadership council" meeting and re-named Rudy the starting quarterback over Sam Keller.
For some reason, no matter how successful or how tough their quarterback played, the fans at Frank Kush Field were very quick to turn sour and call for the hook on Rudy.
Well, the "Rudy Saga" in Tempe is over. Enter senior quarterback Danny Sullivan.
The 6'5" 242 pound quarterback is an absolute gunslinger. Sullivan's arm is a rocket. During pre-game warm ups in the fall, and even this past spring, 'Sully was witnessed standing at the 50 yard line and repeatedly hitting the crossbar and lower 90 degree of the goal posts almost at will.
Impressive yes, however more impressive is the combination of accuracy and power he proved with this.
In his four seasons at Tempe, Sullivan has completed 40 of 87 passes for 409 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions apiece.
Clearly, not impressive numbers overall, but if you look closer in the game experience that has allowed him more than a snap here and there, in late game mop—up duty the quarterback has shown flashes of quality.
In the 2007 Holiday Bowl against Texas, Sullivan completed 7 of 14 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown.
Similarly, Danny played the whole fourth quarter versus his hometown San Jose State Spartans in 2007. Sullivan tossed his first career touchdown with family and friends in attendance, as well as finishing 9 of 12 for 80 yards.
But the message boards revolving around ASU have been talking about the future and giving a quarterback a chance that has more than just one season left. Although, as Danny has shown, this one year wonder can reach for the stars with the smallest of opportunities.
In his senior season at Los Gatos high school, 'Sully got the first start of his career, a 41-0 win. Danny led the wildcats to the victory with his 3 touchdown passes (no interceptions) and 167 yards.
When his high school career was all said and done, Sullivan won a state title with Los Gatos, defeating Palo Alto high school 27-6 and catching the eye of ASU's Koetter. Sullivan's numbers were all the talk too; 2,435 yards, 24 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. And one stat that Danny has grown to love. The win total: 11.
Danny Sullivan will be handed the keys to a team that is looking to rebound from a 5-7 season that resulted in the Sun Devils watching the bowl season on the couch.
ASU's offensive leader will no doubt be wearing No. 15, but the tools at his disposal will help when times get tough.
Although the Sun Devils lost wide receiver Mike Jones to graduation, senior wide receivers Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams will provide solid experience and leadership returning for the ASU passing game. If you throw in Junior Kerry Taylor, the trio has hauled in 81 passes for 1,270 yards and 8 touchdowns, the most productive returning wide receiving corps in the conference.
The backfield returns starter Dimitri Nance, Jarrell Woods, and Shaun DeWitty (sat out in the spring due to academic issues).
However, the most intriguing of all the running backs might be Sophomore Ryan Bass. Due to ball control issues in the fall, Bass carried the rock sparingly totaling 120 yards in six appearances.
With an increased focus on technique and ball security during the spring, Erickson noted that Bass looked to be over the "fumble bug" that hampered his growth as a true freshman.
All the naysayers will say, "this team will go as far as the offensive line will take them!" That is true, and the belief around the conference is that this year the Sun Devils will take a giant step forward.
Pass protection has been an issue for the past three seasons. Many pundits felt it was attributed to Carpenter's indecision in the pocket. Other theories suggested injuries plagued continuity, and revealed a lack of depth behind the front line.
With increased depth and progress shown during spring workouts, a sense of hope and increased success in the running game has turned doubters into believers. Senior left tackle Shawn Lauvao will anchor the line along with Junior John Hargis, Norco (CA) "hog" Garth Gerhart (brother of Stanford rb Toby), Sophomore Zack Schlink, and JUCO product Tom Njunge.
However, as it always is, the man under center gets to have all the pressure on his shoulders. 'Sully sat back and watched Rudy Carpenter deflect criticism week in and week out, and has seen how to deal with such critics. The only way to prove your worth, is to display it.
The past four seasons have not given the Los Gatos (CA) high school product an opportunity to display his improvement on the field due to the play of Carpenter. However, his growth, as well as ASU's, will be on show for all to see this fall in a stadium near you.