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Sun Devils a Pac-12 sleeper team? Why not?

The Arizona State Sun Devils did not enter the 2012 with much in the way of expectations.

In fact, they were picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South during media day last year.

Sure, everyone hoped they’d be better under new coach Todd Graham than they were with Dennis Erickson at the helm, but key losses (QB Brock Osweiler, WR Gerell Robinson, LB Vontaze Burfict) along with a new scheme led many to believe the Devils were still a couple years away from competing for a Pac-12 South title.

But the Devils won eight games in 2012 and are bringing back a host of returning starters in 2013, so the opinion of them has certainly changed.

In an ESPN Insider article that looks to identify ‘sleeper’ teams for 2013, the Sun Devils are named as one that could surprise in the Pac-12.

Why: Everybody’s back. That includes defensive tackle Will Sutton, who was expected (by some) to skip his senior season. He led a surprisingly efficient ASU defense, which ranked second in the Pac-12 in yards per play against (4.78). Think about the way Stanford inched into the league race: by playing better defense than most of the conference. Why couldn’t ASU be this season’s version of Stanford?

Or perhaps ASU could rise in the South Division like UCLA did last season. The Sun Devils, with quarterback Taylor Kelly (8.4 yards per attempt, 29-9 TD-INT ratio), could steal votes from the Bruins for the preseason pick in the division.

Travis Haney, who is the author of the article, notes that ASU’s schedule offers some pitfalls, including an Oct. 5 matchup with Notre Dame at Cowboys Stadium. But, ultimately, he struggled to find a reason why the Sun Devils will not have a good season.

Why not: Frankly, it’s difficult coming up with a reason why ASU wouldn’t rise this season. It’s an experienced team in a division — and conference — that’s relatively open.

What a difference a year makes.

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