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Preseason football annuals paint bleak picture for Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham reacts on the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Washington, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

College football games are not won in June or July.

But predictions about which teams will win college football games start to trickle out this month, so let the speculation begin!

Preseason college annuals are on newsstand shelves, and let’s just say, not many people are expecting much from the 2017 Arizona State Sun Devils.

And why would they? Todd Graham’s Devils were one of the biggest flops of the second half of 2016, losing their last six contests, giving up an average of 46.7 points per contest. Their final game, the annual Territorial Cup clash against Arizona, was one of the most embarrassing losses in the history of the program. The Wildcats, who were 2-9 heading into the game, ran wild on ASU’s porous defense, racking up 511 yards on the ground in a 56-35 win.

The offseason brought change for the Sun Devils. Graham’s staff will feature four new coaches, including both coordinators. Veteran defensive mind Phil Bennett takes over ASU’s struggling unit with hopes of improving on a woeful two-year stretch in which the Sun Devils have ranked worst in the nation against the pass. Billy Napier takes over on offense, becoming Arizona State’s third coordinator in as many years. Napier was a key member on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama for four seasons, coaching wide receivers and helping the Crimson Tide to a College Football Playoff title in 2015.

Athlon’s, Street & Smith’s (formerly Sporting News) and Lindy’s have all published their college football yearbooks for 2017, and all three outlets have similar (should we say depressing) outlooks for ASU. Of course, we encourage you to pick up these fine publications on your own, but here, we offer a bit of a Sun Devil primer on what they’re saying three months before the start of the season.


Athlon Sports College Football

• Picks ASU to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South with a record of (5-7, 2-7).

• Does not project the Sun Devils to play in a bowl game for the second straight year.

• Has the Devils ranked 53rd in the nation out of 130 FBS programs.

• Ranks ASU’s RB unit as the 23rd-best in the nation.

• Ranks ASU’s LB unit as the 24th-best in the nation.

• Lists Todd Graham No. 7 on their Coaching Hot Seat List

First-Team All-Pac-12: WR N’Keal Harry

Second-Team All-Pac-12: DL Jojo Wicker, LB Koron Crump, KR Kalen Ballage

Synopsis: In the talent game, the Sun Devils are headed in the right direction but are still not near their destination. Graham has quadrupled the number of four- and five-star recruits on his roster over a five-year period, but much of the best talent is still young. If the Sun Devils can stabilize this season, with improvement in the secondary and at quarterback, they’ll likely be over the hump transitioning to 2018, when most of their best players will return. However, Graham may need to reach a bowl game this year to make sure he’s still around.


Lindy’s Sports College Football National 2017 Preview

• Picks ASU sixth in the Pac-12 South.

• Does not project the Sun Devils to play in a bowl game for the second straight year.

• Has ASU ranked 65th in the nation out of 130 FBS programs.

• Listed at No.5 on the Underachieving Programs List.

• Todd Graham listed tied for fourth on the Hot Seat Coaches List.

• N’Keal Harry listed as the 11th-best WR in the nation.

Second-Team All-Pac-12: WR N’Keal Harry, LB Christian Sam

Third-Team All-Pac-12: DL Jojo Wicker, LB Koron Crump

Synopsis: Following back-to-back losing seasons, a winning record would be a welcomed sight in Tempe. It’s a feat that should be in reach, provided ASU can present an effective and balanced offense and successfully repair a porous defense. But ASU’s path to success will be far from a smooth journey as it adapts to more than a handful of new assistant coaches and new schemes.


Street & Smith’s 2017 College Football

• Picks ASU fifth in the Pac-12 South.

• Does not project the Sun Devils to play in a bowl game for the second straight year.

First-Team All-Pac-12: WR N’Keal Harry, LB Koron Crump

Synopsis: Graham added veteran defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who was at Baylor the last six seasons, with hopes of reducing all those big plays the Sun Devils keep giving up. Things are more encouraging with ASU’s fast-paced offense, though the Sun Devils will turn to their third offensive coordinator in three years: former Alabama receivers coach Billy Napier.


Phil Steele’s 2017 College Football Preview

• Picks ASU tied for 4th (with Colorado) in the Pac-12 South.

• Does not project the Sun Devils to play in a bowl game for the second straight year.

• Has ASU ranked 48th (out of 130 teams) in his preseason FBS power poll.

• Rates ASU’s 2017 schedule as the 10th-toughest in the nation and 5th-toughest in Pac-12.

• Rates ASU’s quarterbacks as the 35th-best unit in FBS.

• Rates ASU’s running backs as the 25th-best unit in FBS.

• Rates ASU’s wide receivers as the 30th-best unit in FBS.

• Rates ASU’s defensive line as the 36th-best unit in FBS.

• Rates ASU’s linebackers as the 31st-best unit in FBS.

First-Team All-Pac-12: WR N’Keal Harry, LB Koron Crump

Second-Team All-Pac-12: DL JoJo Wicker, KR Kalen Ballage

Third-Team All-Pac-12: LB D.J. Calhoun, LS Mitchell Fraboni

Fourth-Team All-Pac-12: RB Kalen Ballage, OL Sam Jones, DL Tashon Smalwood

Synopsis: Last year ASU was -197 yards per game in Pac-12 play which was the league worst but were crippled by injuries throughout the year, at times missing over half their starters. Pressure is rising on Todd Graham after two losing seasons and he’s toned down the preseason talk, which could have this team flying under the radar. The Sun Devils will be a good-looking team getting off the bus with plenty of talented athletes on both sides of the ball. I look for a significant improvement, especially on the defensive side. ASU does get five Pac-12 home games, but three of them are vs. USC, Washington and Oregon. If they win those games, it could be a much stronger than expected season, however if they lose them, most of their winnable games will be on the road.

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