2011 Record: (6-7, 4-5 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: Todd Graham (49-29 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Las Vegas Bowl: lost to Boise State 56-24
Must Win: 8/30 vs North Arizona
Out of Conference: 9/8 vs Illinois, 9/15 at Missouri
Swing Games: 9/29 at Cal, 10/11 at Colorado, 10/27 vs UCLA, 11/3 at Oregon St, 11/17 vs Washington St, 11/23 at Arizona
Stats to Cheer: +0.69 turnover margin (2nd in Pac-12); 32 takeaways (2nd in Pac-12, 7th in Nation)
Stat to Fear: gave up 202 plays of 10 or more yards (102nd in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 4; Defense: 4; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Brandon Magee (73 tackles in 2010), S Alden Darby (51 tackles, 3 INT), CB Osahon Irabor (48 tackles), DT Will Sutton (33 tackles, 2.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Cameron Marshall (1050 yds, 18 TD), WR Jamal Miles (60 rec, 6 TD), OT Evan Finkenberg
Inside Scoop with The Saturday Edge:
CFBZ: Now that Todd Graham has had a chance to settle into the job for a few months, what are you overall thoughts on the hire?
The Saturday Edge: Initially I thought it was a terrible hire. Our (since fired) AD completely bungled the entire coaching search/hiring process. She had originally set her sights on Kevin Sumlin and the rumor was they were just ironing out the details. Then the Texas A & M job opened up, he no longer was interested in ASU and everyone in Tempe claimed they never had any contact with him.
A few days later rumors start swirling that June Jones has become the front-runner for the job and that he and ASU have actually come to an agreement. Boosters revolted and former AD Lisa Love’s fate was probably sealed at this point.
About a week later, out of nowhere she hires Todd Graham, who as far as anyone knows was at least her third choice ….. or was that her third strike? To make matters worse, immediately after his hire Graham took a national beating for leaving Pittsburgh after one season and informing the Pitt players of his departure via text message.
We are now six months removed from the hiring fiasco and Graham has been saying and doing all of the right things. He has energized the fan base and begun to change the culture.
Former HC Dennis Erickson ran a very loose ship here in Tempe. ASU had serious discipline issues during his tenure. Twice over the past four seasons, the Sun Devils led all 120 FBS teams in penalty yards per game and Erickson allowed a very promising 2011 season to deteriorate into mediocrity because of his “laid back” coaching style.
Graham has instilled a new sense of discipline to the program which was very evident at the spring game I attended. Almost every Arizona State defender lost weight this offseason. Players are expected to wear matching shirts, shorts, shoes and socks in the weight room and hats, earrings and headphones have been banned from the student-athlete center.
Graham has been successful at Rice and Tulsa, but didn’t do so well in his one year at Pitt, so the jury is still out whether or not he can coach at this level. However, on the bright side, if he in fact is a good coach I suspect his nomad reputation has probably limited his employment options to the point that he will probably stay Tempe for quite a while if he wins.
CFBZ: Who will replace Brock Osweiler ?
The Saturday Edge: It appears that ASU has three choices to replace Osweiler. They include two sophomores (Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly) and a redshirt freshman (Michael Eubank), all of whom are long on potential, but short on experience (Bercovici saw some mop up duty last year).
From everything I am reading it is likely to come down to Bercovici or Eubank. They say Bercovici is the best passer of the trio, but Eubank, at 6-foot-5, 242 pounds, has a ton of potential and may fit Graham’s offense better.
However, based on the performances I viewed at the spring game, Kelly was the best quarterback of the three on that day. Bercovici wasn’t overly impressive and unless Eubank improves a great deal over the summer (and at fall practice), he simply isn’t ready.
Kelly really impressed me at the spring game. Not only was he as accurate passing the ball as Becovici, he adds a running element to the position that the others didn’t seem to possess. He kind of reminded me of a smaller, but faster Tim Tebow.
No matter who wins the starting job, he is likely to have some growing pains. Not only will he be inexperienced and learning/running a new offensive scheme, but he will also be throwing to a group of very inexperienced receivers. ASU lost four extremely prolific receivers – Gerrell Robinson, George Bell, Mike Willie and Aaron Pflugard combined for 175 receptions and 2,728 yards last year.
CFBZ: Who are some offensive players that you think will be a good fit for the system that Graham will run?
The Saturday Edge: Graham’s version of the spread focuses more on the run. He favors a two-back downhill rushing attack and it just so happens that ASU has arguably the best running back unit in the PAC 12 (though I hear they have some pretty decent backs in Eugene).
The star is Cameron Marshall who rushed for 1,050 yards and 18 TDs last season. But what really makes this group special is the depth. Kyle Middlebrooks, James Morrison and Deantre Lewis are all proven commodities. Lewis’ return from injury (he missed last season after suffering a gunshot wound in the offseason ….. was Isaiah Crowell anywhere around LA during that time period?) could be a big boost. In 2010, he rushed for 539 yards (5.86 ypr), 4 TDs and also had 23 receptions out of the backfield for 370 yards (16.1 ypc avg).
Add to this group Marion Grice, the top rated JC running back out of Blinn College in Texas and four star freshman D.J. Foster, and you can see why ASU is excited about the running back position.
The other player to keep an eye on in this offense is Jamal Miles. Miles had 60 receptions last season, but he only averaged 6.0 yards per catch. He caught the majority of his passes out of the backfield, as former ASU OC Mazzone loved to use him in a sideline-to-sideline role (as a side note, I liked Mazzone as ASU’s OC, but I hated those 6 or 7 sideline “swing” passes he would call each game).
Based on the spring game it appears Graham will utilize him more in a receiving role, which I believe is a good decision because Miles is a playmaker. He scored two touchdowns on kick-off returns last year and one on a punt return.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
The Saturday Edge: Everyone keeps saying ASU is going to take a step back in 2012. A step back from what? From the team that had enough talent to eviscerate USC 43-22, or a step back from the team (and coach) who despite being in complete control of the PAC 12 South, completely imploded and gave up over the second part of the season?
That team ended up going 6-7. Why does ASU need to take a step back from that? Despite low expectations for 2012, ASU should still have a strong running game, a solid defensive line, a good secondary and solid special teams.
In addition, there is more than enough talent on hand to be competitive in the PAC 12 South. Outside of USC the division should be extremely competitive. There are four teams (ASU, Arizona, UCLA & Utah) with very little separating them.
Trips to Missouri, Cal and USC appear to be likely losses, as does Oregon at home. However, there is no other team on the schedule that will have a talent edge over the Sun Devils and they get Illinois, Utah and UCLA in Tempe. I see no reason why ASU cannot win 6 games and reach a bowl game this season.
After you get past USC in the Pac-12 South, and possibly Utah, it's wide open. There are four teams that really don't distance themselves too much from each other (although Colorado will probably be the choice of most for last place). All of these teams have a chance to have bad years or surprisingly good years. What concerns me the most about Arizona State is their schedule (27th toughest in the Nation according to Phil Steele). They play Northern Arizona and then it's into the grinder for the rest of the season.
As mentioned above, the Sun Devils have a couple of players at the skill positions in Marshall and Miles that should have a big impact on the game. The key for the Sun Devils is what happens to the QB position and how that player performs. They will have to replace a big name in Brock Osweiler. Osweiler threw for over 4000 yards and 26 TDs last year. Graham never found a QB in his debut year at Pitt and the offense at Pitt didn't take a step forward as was expected when Graham was hired.
On defense, the Sun Devils lose their five leading tacklers and six of their top seven. They also lose their leading interceptor and leading sacker. The good news is that the defense wasn't all-world last year so the guys that are being replaced are replaceable. That includes Vontaze Burfict. Burfict was an all-world talent that seemed to veer in the wrong the direction as his career continued to develop at ASU. Losing him could be addition by subtraction.
Erickson didn't recruit particularly well over the last few years of his tenure, with 2010 being the best class, so that leaves a lot of question marks with the talent left in Phoenix. One thing they did last year was they gobbled up a ton of JUCO guys (9 guys according to Scout.com) and all of those guys committed to ASU after Graham assumed position with the exception of one. The nine guys are also sprinkled out over many positions (1 RB, 1 WR, 1 TE, 1 OL, 2 DL, 2 LB, 1 CB). It will be interesting to watch those guys and see how ready they are to compete and how good of a fit they are for Graham's system. With Graham bringing them in the thought process would be that they should be able to at least compete for playing time right away. That group of nine guys could be a key to Graham's first season. Graham has had some success with JUCO guys in the past (Brennan Marion led Tulsa in receiving yards in 2007 and 2008) but never recruited as many (even at Tulsa) as he did this year at ASU.
The most likely scenario is Arizona State contending for the third spot in the Pac-12 South with a shot at a bowl game.
2012 Prediction: 6-6
Previous 2012 Previews:
Big 12: Kansas
I read an article the other day suggesting that Graham's offense should have more success in Tempe than it did at Pitt. It said he was trying to fit square pegs into round holes at Pitt. I'm sure it will all come down to QB play, so there is bound to be some ups and downs.
Defense is just one HUGE concern. Unfortunately I also read where in 49 games as a DC, Chris Ball (ASU's new DC) defenses have given up 30+ pts 33 times and 40+ pts 22 times. UGH!