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Athlon: ASU’s Herm Edwards ‘has a tough job ahead in 2018 and beyond’

Newly appointed Arizona State University NCAA college football head coach Herman Edwards speaks during a news conference, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. Edwards, a former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst will assume the head coach position and serve as football CEO according to ASU athletic director Ray Anderson. (AP Photo/Matt York)

It’s never too early to start looking into the next season of college football.

With that in mind, AthlonSports&Life.com ranked each Pac-12 team, labeling each team’s strengths, or lack thereof, and how the standings will look after next season concludes.

While the Arizona Wildcats are projected to finish third, behind only USC and Utah, Arizona State saw the opposite, coming in last in the south division.

 There’s no shortage of intrigue at UCLA and Arizona State this season. Edwards hasn’t coached in college since 1989 and was away from the sidelines since he was dismissed as the Chiefs head coach in 2008. Credit Arizona State for trying something different to improve its football program, but Edwards has a tough job ahead in 2018 (and beyond). The Sun Devils return only 11 starters, but two of those are quarterback Manny Wilkins and receiver N’Keal Harry. Edwards and coordinator Danny Gonzales have to find a few answers for a defense that allowed 32.8 points a game and struggled to stop the pass in 2017.

With the unknown that comes with new coaches as they take over a program, head coach Herm Edwards was deemed the most likely coach to be on the hot seat by three out of the four analysts. The only other coach picked was Washington State’s Mike Leach.

The website also selected the school as one of the hardest teams to evaluate.

As if the personnel concerns weren’t enough, Arizona State’s schedule is difficult. The Sun Devils play Michigan State, San Diego State and Washington in September. Additionally, this team also catches Oregon and Stanford in crossover play.

But not all is wrong with the Sun Devils.

They came in at No. 1 in terms of having the best wide receiver unit in the conference. With N’Keal Harry, Kyle Williams and Jalen Harvey set to return, it shouldn’t be much surprise to ASU fans.

Harry had team highs in receptions (82), yards (1,142) and touchdowns (8). Williams wasn’t too far behind, hauling in 66 balls for 763 yards and seven scores. Harvey showed flashes that he could make the next step. He finished the season with 33 receptions for 558 yards and one touchdown.

On the ground, running back Eno Benjamin received a high mark from the website, being selected as one of four potential breakout players.

The team also holds the fifth spot when looking at the defensive line.

On the other side of the ball, ASU defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales ranked pretty high as he was selected as one of the four best coordinator hires in the conference.

Looking south, Arizona had high marks.

Arizona has the easiest path to the top of the South, as new coach Kevin Sumlin’s team won’t play Washington or Stanford in the regular season. Additionally, USC visits Tucson in late September. The Wildcats shouldn’t have much trouble scoring points behind dynamic quarterback Khalil Tate, and the defense will continue to improve with nine starters back.

Not only were they considered a sleeper team by two analysts, but new head coach Sumlin was also considered for Coach of the Year. The team’s offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, was also selected as a top hire.

Out of the unit rankings, the Wildcats were top 6 in four out of the five position groups. They ranked sixth in running back, sixth in offensive line, fifth in linebacker and sixth in defensive back units.

According to Athlon, Washington was deemed the top team in the north divison by a long shot, stating that it’s bringing back 16 starters and represents the conference’s best shot at making the playoffs. They are projected to go 8-1 (11-2). USC is projected to win the south division, going 7-2 (9-4).

In a potential USC-Washington Pac-12 Championship game, the Huskies take home the title over the Trojans.

Oregon State is considered the bottom of the barrel in the Pac-12, with Athlon projecting the Beavers to go 0-9 (2-10).

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