Arizona State Football: The State of the Program After 2013 Season
The Arizona State Sun Devils ended their season with 10 wins, a Pac-12 South title, and also got to host the Pac-12 Championship game for the first time in school history.
Not bad for head coach Todd Graham's second year on the job.
The Sun Devils relied on their large senior class to provide stability and leadership throughout the season and they certainly didn't disappoint.
Following Arizona State's loss to Notre Dame early in the year, it looked like Sun Devil fans were in for another year of above average football. The Sun Devils looked like they were at least another year away from being ready for the big stage and bright lights of big-time college football.
Losing to the Fighting Irish lit a fire under ASU though, a fire that wasn't extinguished until the Pac-12 Championship game where ASU lost for the first time since Week 5 of the season.
ASU proved they could win the big game this year by going to Los Angeles and beating UCLA on the road to win the Pac-12 South title outright.
The team continued to improve week to week and it appeared all the stars were aligning in Tempe for the Sun Devils to play January 1 in the granddaddy of them all.
Unfortunately for Sun Devil fans though, Stanford came into Tempe and beat the Sun Devils 38-14 in the Pac-12 Championship game.
Even with that loss however, ASU's football program is certainly headed in the right direction.
The Sun Devils will play in the Holiday Bowl and are looking to finish their season 11-3, a mark most college football teams would be very proud of.
It's a good time to be a Sun Devil, as Graham and his staff have made Arizona State a power in the Pac-12 South. The Sun Devils will be right near the top of the Pac-12 standings moving forward and a Pac-12 Championship game at Sun Devil stadium may become more of an expectation than a nice surprise.
The Sun Devils will graduate more than 20 players this year, including most of their starters on both offense and defense.
The defensive line will take the biggest hit with Will Sutton, Gannon Conway, Davon Coleman and Jake Sheffield all graduating.
Safety Alden Darby and cornerback Osahon Irabor leave the biggest holes in ASU's secondary while Kody Koebensky and Evan Finkenberg leave glaring holes on the Sun Devils' offensive line.
Sun Devil fans shouldn't be too worried though, as Arizona State will still return many playmakers for next year.
The most notable returner is D.J. Foster.
Foster will be the featured back and staple of ASU's offense next year and moving forward. He more than replaced this year's starter Marion Grice at the end of this season after Grice went down with an injury.
Foster's ability to make plays and run with power will make him a valuable asset moving forward.
Damarious Randall will help ASU in the secondary next year.
He worked his way into the starting lineup this year as a JUCO transfer and made key plays throughout the year for ASU, including a pick-six against U of A.
The biggest question mark for ASU this offseason will be if linebacker Carl Bradford will stay or go to the NFL draft?
Bradford was a beast for ASU this year leading the team in sacks and tackles for a loss. If he stays, ASU's defense shouldn't miss a beat next year.
Fans also shouldn't forget quarterback Taylor Kelly will return next year.
It will be Kelly's senior season, and if he improves this offseason like he did last year, the Sun Devils' offense will be even more potent in 2014.
Defensive Line Depth
The Sun Devils' biggest offseason concern is their defensive line.
Essentially all of ASU's defensive line playmakers will graduate this year, leaving many question marks heading into next year.
It will be important for ASU to not only continue to attract recruits but also develop the players they have.
Connor Humphreys may be able to step in as a freshman and make an immediate impact, but also look for some returners such as Jaxon Hood to really step up.
Remember, Will Sutton didn't have a breakout season until his junior year.
Another Big-Play Wide Receiver
ASU finally found a true No. 1 receiving target in Jaelen Strong this year, but he'll need some help next year.
Sun Devil fans should look for Tyler Whiley and Jalen Harvey to step in early next year and make an impact as true freshmen.
They both have big-play ability and could help ASU stretch opponent's defenses.
Players ASU Must Land
Casey Tucker is a local product out of Chandler, Arizona. He is an offensive lineman ASU desperately needs to help build depth.
He has good size at 6'6'' and 270 pounds and can move pretty well.
Tucker also has offers from Texas A&M, USC and Notre Dame so ASU will have it's work cut out trying to land him.
Michael Lazarus is a linebacker that Arizona State needs.
The Sun Devils will lose starter Chris Young to graduation and need to start rebuilding their defensive front seven.
Lazarus is a big linebacker who could step in at ASU's devil-backer position.
Edmond Boateng is currently playing junior college football but would be a huge get for the Sun Devils.
He could step in immediately on ASU's depleted defensive line and make an impact.
ESPN.com's scout profile (Subscription Required) says Boateng will be an impact player for whatever school he chooses:
When maintains pad level and brings hands, strong enough to set the edge as run defender. A solid wrap-up tackler. Flashes ability to transfer speed-to-power and can get his hands up when he can't get to QB and deflect some passes. Also flashes good effort and ability to block kicks. Flashes good upper body strength and heavy hands to be able to deliver a pop and extend. When maintains pad level and brings hands, strong enough to set the edge as run defender. A solid wrap-up tackler.
Recruit information from 247sports.com unless otherwise indicated.
Stars of the Future
Damarious Randall wasn't a starter to begin the year for ASU, but the JUCO transfer worked his way into the starting lineup and made an impact.
He ended the year with three interceptions, 60 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss.
Randall will be tasked with becoming the leader of ASU's secondary next year with the departure of Alden Darby, and he should be able to do just that.
Look for Randall to become a major impact player for ASU next year in its secondary.
Richard Smith had a rocky start to 2013.
He had a crucial fumble against Notre Dame and dropped many passes to start the season. Smith turned things around though in ASU's matchup with Washington State.
Smith made a circus catch for a touchdown in that game and just a week later caught the game-winning score to help ASU beat Utah.
Smith may have a larger role in ASU's offense next year if he can just stay true to his coaching and play fundamentally sound football.
Jaxon Hood will be Will Sutton's replacement.
Hood isn't going to provide the same burst off the line or rush the passer like Sutton, but he will be a very good defensive tackle.
He's good against the run and his big body will cause headaches for opponents.
Hood will be one of the only returning playmakers on Arizona State's defensive line, and will have to have a big year next year for ASU's defense to stay on track.
ASU's coaching staff should stay largely intact heading into next year.
The only potential move on the Sun Devils' staff may be the departure of Chip Long.
Footballscoop.com reported that UCS's new head coach Steve Sarkisian is trying to lure tight end coach and recruiting coordinator Long away from ASU.
Long has won awards for his coaching and recruiting during his time at ASU, including being named a top recruiter in the Pac-12 last year.
Losing Long would be a big hit to ASU.
The only other question, coaching-wise, headed into next year is how offensive coordinator Mike Norvell will continue to develop as a play-caller?
ASU is Norvell's first, full-time offensive coordinator job and he's done a good job learning and developing the past two years.
Next year though, he needs to make sure he doesn't take his foot off the gas and continues to try new things. There were times this past season when ASU's offense would look unstoppable, and then all the sudden went into a shell.
Norvell needs to make sure that doesn't happen in 2014.
It's a good time to be a Sun Devil football fan.
Head coach Todd Graham has turned ASU's fate around and in just two years has come through on almost all of his promises.
Not many people outside Arizona State's locker room thought the Sun Devils would be within one win of the Rose Bowl this year, and yet that's where they were.
Pac-12 Championship games won't be rare for ASU anymore, they will become the norm.
Arizona State has all the resources to be a major player in the Pac-12, and it seems like under Graham all those resources are being used and the program is headed clearly in the right direction.
Next year will be tough for ASU, as they lose a large chunk of their starters to graduation, but the Sun Devils should be in the mix for a Pac-12 South title again.
This year wasn't a fluke for Arizona State, it's just the beginning.