As Todd Graham heads into his third spring session as head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils, one mission for the upcoming season is very clear.
He needs to rebuild his defense.
The Devils lose nine defensive starters from last season’s 2013 Pac-12 South championship squad, including two-time Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton.
But if Graham is worried about this task, he’s hiding it very well.
“Two years ago, when I came here, there was eight defensive starters that graduated and I don’t even think Will was even honorable mention All-Conference. Carl (Bradford) had never played in a game on defense,” Graham told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday. “There were a lot of question marks and obviously not a great tradition of playing defense in the recent years.
“But I think winning breeds winning. A couple years ago, I remember watching Stanford play San Jose State and they almost got beat. And Andrew Luck was gone and the sky was falling and all that. And they just have won back-to-back conference championships and Andrew Luck never won one.”
Graham believes the winning the Sun Devils have done the last two seasons, going 18-8 overall, will pay dividends in 2014 and beyond because it serves as the groundwork of building a sustainable program.
“This program is going to produce, you’re going to be impressed with guys who step up, is what I believe,” he said. “Obviously I’m excited — I think we’ve improved our staff. I think that’ll help me get us better on defense.
“In conference play last year, we had the number-one scoring offense in the conference and the number-one total defense, so we’ve left a great legacy on how to play.”
As far as Graham sees it, no matter who is suited up in the maroon and gold (and black) on the defensive side of the ball, the program has one very clear goal in mind.
“Our program next year, and you can say whatever you want on the radio to whoever you want to say it to, the bottom line is we have to win a conference championship or we’ve had a disappointing year,” he said. “I’m proud that we’ve established that expectation and that standard there.”