A lot of folks are high on the Arizona State Sun Devils heading into the 2013 season.
Guess that's what happens when you, following an 8-5 campaign, return with your starting quarterback, a stable of excellent running backs and one of the best defenses in the conference.
Entering Todd Graham's second season as head coach, ESPN NCAA football expert Phil Steele (in an ESPN Insider piece) says the Devils are one of 10 teams that could be a big surprise in 2013.
Second-year head coaches have had great success in the BCS era. In 2000, Bob Stoops shockingly won the title after a five-loss season. Two years later, under head coach Jim Tressel, Ohio State was a surprise national title winner after a five-loss season in his first year. Urban Meyer, in his second year at Florida, took home a national title in 2006, and Gene Chizik (in his second year) won the title in 2010 after going 8-5 his first year at Auburn.
I will admit I really had the Sun Devils about eighth or ninth on my list, but they were the highest rated of the teams with a second-year head coach in Todd Graham (coming off an 8-5 season), and I wanted to keep with tradition. They do have my No. 4 set of running backs in the country as well as my No. 4 defensive line. While the Sun Devils have to play UCLA and Stanford on the road -- and Notre Dame at a neutral site -- they get USC and Wisconsin at home and could end up with only their third double-digit-win season in the past 25 years.
True, ASU's schedule looks to e one of the more difficult ones in the country. We'll know a lot about the team and its chances by the time the calendar turns to October, and if the Devils can survive their early gauntlet they may yet have a shot at a special season.
The season kicks off on September 5 with a home game against Sacramento State.