At this time last year, Todd Graham’s Arizona State Sun Devils were a very trendy pick to make noise in the Pac-12. Some experts even had the Devils crashing the College Football Playoff party.
The season didn’t exactly go that way. ASU finished a disappointing 6-7 and ranked dead last in passing defense, yielding 337.8 yards per game.
This year, needless to say, the optimism isn’t nearly as high. The Sun Devils are a football team with many questions heading into Graham’s fifth season. The most notable is “who will play quarterback?” Sophomore Manny Wilkins and redshirt freshmen Brady White and Bryce Perkins will complete for the job opened up by Mike Bercovici’s graduation.
A sizable overhaul of the coaching staff, including Chip Lindsey taking over for the departed Mike Norvell at offensive coordinator, has more locals excited than the national pundits.
The lack of experience at quarterback is a main reason the Sun Devils have slipped in the eyes of the national experts in 2016.
Every year, we like to take a look at what the preseason college football magazines have projected for the Sun Devils.
LB Salamo Fiso
• WR N’Keal Harry – Named top freshman in the conference
Sporting News’ Synopsis: Graham’s team finished 6-7 last season and 4-5 in the Pac-12, yet its offensive losses and defensive troubles suggest things won’t get better. A similar finish might be about all the Sun Devils can expect, at least until more talent and experience arrives.
• Sun Devils ranked 45th in the country.
LB Salamo Fiso, P Matt Haack
RB Demario Richard, DL JoJo Wicker, LB Christian Sam, KR Tim White
• 12th-best linebacker unit in the nation
• 16th-best running back unit in the nation
• 24th-best defensive line unit in the nation
• Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey rated as the ninth-best coordinator hire in FBS this past offseason.
Athlon Sports Synopsis: After consecutive 10-win seasons — the program’s first since the early 1970s — Arizona State last year took a step back, finishing 6-7. This season, the Sun Devils could struggle to reach bowl eligibility. With Richard and Ballage, the Devils likely will have one of the Pac-12’s top backfields, but the uncertainty and inexperience at quarterback — to go along with four new starters on the offensive line — will be tough hurdles to clear. An advantage: the schedule. Arizona State opens against Northern Arizona, Texas Tech, UTSA and California, with three of the four in Sun Devil Stadium. That could give the offense time to find its footing before the Pac-12 schedule kicks into high gear with contests against USC, UCLA, Washington State and Oregon.
• Sun Devils ranked 45th in the country.
TE Kody Kohl, LB Salamo Fiso, P Matt Haack
DL Tashon Smallwood
RB Demario Richard, WR Tim White, K Zane Gonzalez, DL JoJo Wicker
• RB Kalen Ballage – Named toughest runner to bring down in conference
• WR N’Keal Harry – Named seventh-best recruit in conference
• RB Demario Richard – Projected as 12th-best Fantasy Football RB
• K Zane Gonzalez – Projected as 4th-best Fantasy Football K
• Rated ASU’s 2016 class of athletes (Chase Lucas, Robbie Robinson, Kyle Williams) as second-best in the nation
Lindy’s Synopsis: After posting back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since the early 1970s, Arizona State took a step back last season. With an inexperienced quarterback, rebuilt offensive line and an unproven secondary, a return to Pac-12 contention won’t be easy. An advantage: Three of Arizona State’s first four games are at home, which might provide time to grow.
• ASU has FPI National Ranking of 47, and ESPN gives the Sun Devils a 1.3% chance at winning the Pac-12 South.
P Matt Haack
ESPN Synopsis: After a disappointing 6-7 finish in 2015, the Sun Devils have a new offensive coordinator. Now they need to find a new quarterback. Coach Todd Graham, who won 10 games in both 2013 and 2014, must also work wonders on defense. ASU gave up more big plays than any other Power 5 team, allowed 33.5 points per game and was the nation’s worst against the pass (337.8 ypg).
Phil Steele’s 2016 College Football Preview
• Has Sun Devils ranked 41st in the nation
• Sun Devils 6th-most improved team in the nation
• Rates ASU’s schedule as the 46th-toughest in the country
LB Christian Sam, P Matt Haack
LB Salamo Fiso
RB Demario Richard, TE Kody Kohl, DT JoJo Wicker, KR Tim White
T Evan Goodman, DE Dougladson Subtyl, LS Mitchell Fraboni
• Christian Sam rated as 20th-best ILB in the nation
• Kody Kohl rated as 27th-best TE in the nation
• Salamo Fiso rated as 34th-best ILB in the nation
• Demario Richard rated as 37th-best RB in the nation
• 13th-best LB unit in the nation
• 18th-best special teams in the nation
• 24th-best DL unit in the nation
• 29th-best RB unit in the nation
• 34th-best WR unit in the nation
Phil Steele’s synopsis: ASU is 14-6 vs. the Pac-12 South since 2012. They had three net close losses last year and a Stock Market Indicator of +4.0 (signs pointing up). Their 10 returning starters this year are the second-fewest in the Pac-12 and they rate a -23 in all-conference points returning. Not only do they have five Pac-12 road games this year, but three are vs. league powers (USC, Oregon, Washington). The key to this season is the O-line and QB. I think both have the potential to be as good as last year and if that is the case, they have great talent at the skill positions and one of the top defensive front sevens in the league. Arizona State is a contender in the South and Coach Graham will love the fact that they are unranked and under the radar. He will point out that lack of respect and use it as a rallying cry. Arizona State is not my pick to win the South but they are on my Most Improved List.