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ASU coach Todd Graham begins year two with excitement, expectations

Head coach Todd Graham pointed out the obvious.

“This is an exciting time; I can’t remember a season that I have been more excited about.”

And then he delivered — with a smile, a warning to his players.

“I’ve lost over 30 pounds. I’m ready to go, so that might not be very good for these guys because I’m not going to get tired very easily.”

The first fall practice is Tuesday.

The excitement heading into Graham’s second season is understandable.

The Sun Devils finished 8-5 a year ago, tied for second in the Pac-12 South and handled Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, 62-28.

The offense returns six starters, including quarterback Taylor Kelly, who threw for 29 TDs while completing a school-record 67.1 percent of his passes.

“I believe that we’ve got an opportunity to be even more explosive,” Graham said.

The defense welcomes back eight starters, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American Will Sutton.

“It’s the most talented football team I’ve ever coached,” Graham said. “It’s the best football team that wins the league and I think we’ve got a chance to do that if we’ll continue to not worry about predictions and not worry about watch lists. None of that stuff matters.”

To meet the lofty expectations set before the 2013 Sun Devils will require navigating through one of the tougher schedules in the nation. ASU, in the first five weeks of the season, plays Big 10 champion Wisconsin, Pac-12 champion Stanford plus Notre Dame, which played in the BCS National Championship.

“I’m looking forward to coaching in those big games,” Graham said.

The offense, as good as it was last year scoring points (14th-best in the country), must, according to Graham, take better care of the football and avoid negative yardage plays.

Defensively, stopping the run is the main focus.

“The No. 1 thing is being able to have the depth and being able to hold up,” said Graham, whose team allowed 182.9 rushing yards per game (10th in conference, 81st nationally). “The other thing is just size. One of the things I’m excited about: We are bigger. All of the guys that are here are bigger, faster and stronger.”

Check each of the above and the Sun Devils feel they can accomplish every one of their goals.

“I believe in this team,” Graham said. “I’ve got a great feeling about where we’re at because of the character and how we’ve developed. I don’t believe there is anybody in our program that I could look at that has not gotten better.

“We’ve got an opportunity to do something great.”