Too bad they don’t give out awards for preseason expectations, because if so Arizona State would need to find a bigger trophy case.
A preseason darling, the Sun Devils are receiving praise from all over, the latest coming courtesy of SI Writer Stewart Mandel.
When asked in his mailbag to identify a sleeper team, one ranked between 15 and 25 who could ultimately win the national title, he pointed to the team that plays its home games in Tempe.
When looking for a team likely to improve by several wins, the single biggest factor generally is finding a squad that performed better last season than its record indicates. Arizona State certainly fits that description. The Sun Devils went 6-6 overall last year and 4-5 in Pac-10 play, but they had only one truly bad loss, a 50-17 defeat at Cal. They lost 20-19 at Wisconsin on a blocked extra point; they lost by a point at USC and held Stanford to a season-low 17; and they played Oregon tough for three quarters before ultimately being done in by a staggering seven turnovers.
Among Mandel’s other reasons were that the team has experience in Noel Mazone’s offense, and junior QB Brock Osweiler seems poised to emerge as a top flight QB in the new Pac-12.
Add in talented skill players like Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks, and it seems as if the offense may be able to match what is already one of the better defenses in the country, which is led by Heisman Trophy candidate Vontaze Burfict.
Still, it’s not all roses for Arizona State. As Mandel notes:
The schedule is very manageable, save for a daunting Oct. 15 trip to Oregon. It may take a colossal upset, or a rematch opportunity in the Pac-12 title game, for ASU to deliver on its sleeper potential. Or, ASU could wilt under the hype, go 5-7, and cost Erickson his job. But hey, John wanted a sleeper, and I assumed Florida State didn’t count.
Indeed, this has become THE year for Dennis Erickson and his team. It’s one thing to disappoint and a completely different thing to fall short of high expectations. Is the hype warranted? Perhaps. Come September, though, it will be all about wins and losses, not hype and sleepers.