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Athlon Sports ranks Arizona State football 45th in country

Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin (3) celebrates with N'Keal Harry after scoring the winning touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

ASU football during the 2018-19 season was conflicting.

Huge wins over Michigan State and Arizona were followed up with disappointing, brutally-close losses to San Diego State and Fresno State. The team was in contention for a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game, but slipped late in the season against Oregon after three straight conference wins.

For ASU football, last season was full of almosts.

Athlon Sports saw last year as encouraging though, as they ranked the Sun Devils No. 45 in the country heading into the summer.

The site liked ASU’s prospective offense, even with the uncertainty at quarterback. They praised Eno Benjamin and the offensive line, and mentioned a receiving core that is well-built to withstand the loss of first-rounder N’Keal Harry.

Athletic senior receiver Brandon Aiyuk is likely to explode into a 50-plus-catch player after assimilating out of the junior college ranks as a part-time starter. Junior Frank Darby is one of the Pac-12’s best deep-ball threats, though he’s still developing as a route runner. Senior slot receiver Kyle Williams has more than 100 career receptions and is an ultra-reliable blocker.

The Sun Devils are returning important pieces on the defensive side of the ball too, and figure to be just as talented. The site acknowledged that the Sun Devils defense is returning its top two tacklers, and have three members of the secondary coming back as well.

They’ll return their top two tacklers, linebackers Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler, both of whom were true freshmen last season, with Robertson named the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. A third freshman linebacker, Tyler Johnson, may have shown the most NFL potential of the group due to his remarkable size and athleticism.

Led by returning cornerbacks Kobe Williams and Chase Lucas and safety Aashari Crosswell, a secondary that was a laughingstock just two years ago could now be one of the most intimidating in the conference. Williams was rarely beaten on big plays last season, and Lucas and Crosswell have first- or second-day NFL Draft potential.

With national praise, it may be possible that the Sun Devils have higher expectations to live up to than they realized.

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