Pac 12

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#16 Arizona State Sun Devils

NATIONAL FORECAST

#16

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Todd Graham, 18-9 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Norvell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Graham, Keith Patterson

The Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South last year, finishing with a 10-4 overall record and a 8-1 mark in conference play. Todd Graham’s team is poised to make another run at the conference championship, but Arizona State’s defense has to be rebuilt after losing several key contributors. Tackle Will Sutton, linebacker Carl Bradford, cornerbacks Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor and safety Alden Darby are huge losses for new coordinator Keith Patterson. With only two returning starters on defense, expect the Sun Devils to lean heavily on an explosive offense.

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Previewing Arizona State’s Offense for 2014: 

The Sun Devils should have one of the best offenses in the Pac-12. Start with senior quarterback Taylor Kelly, who had 37 total touchdowns and a combined 4,243 yards from scrimmage (3,635 passing, 608 rushing) last season. Kelly doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he’s adept at throwing on the run and escaping the rush. His challenge this year is to play as well against the Pac-12’s top teams as he does some of the conference’s lesser foes.

ASU’s running game will survive the loss of leading rusher Marion Grice because junior D.J. Foster is ready to assume a full-time role carrying the ball. Foster isn’t as strong as Grice between the tackles, but he’s more explosive. He’s also a terrific receiver and will be a big weapon for Kelly out of the backfield.

Foster and Kelly will be aided by an offensive line that should be able to weather the loss of two starters, including all-conference left tackle Evan Finkenberg. The addition of guard Christian Westerman, a transfer from Auburn, will allow Jamil Douglas to move from guard to left tackle.

If there’s a question mark it’s the wide receiving corps. Jaelen Strong is one of the best receivers in the country, a 6'3", 212-pound Larry Fitzgerald clone who caught 75 passes for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns last season. But there’s little returning depth behind Strong, which makes it imperative that junior college transfer Eric Lauderdale can produce immediately.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Arizona State Sun Devils for 2014:

Previewing Arizona State’s Defense for 2014: 

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

It’s highly unlikely that any team in the country has more holes to fill on defense than ASU, which lost nine starters on that side of the ball, including both of its starting cornerbacks, sack leader Carl Bradford and two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year defensive tackle Will Sutton.

The Sun Devils will have no choice but to rely on a mix of junior college recruits — particularly along the defensive line — freshmen and untested sophomores. The inexperience could be a factor early in the season; ASU plays UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington in a one-month span starting Sept. 25.

Along the front, the Sun Devils have to hope that transfers Edmond Boateng and Dalvon Stuckey can step in and play right away. There’s simply not a lot of depth at the position. There are similar concerns at linebacker. True freshman D.J. Calhoun looked great in spring ball, but is he ready for Pac-12 competition? And the Sun Devils haven’t been able to find a ready-made replacement at Devil linebacker for Bradford. Unless that player steps up in the fall, ASU’s pass rush will be compromised.

The secondary? Well, the only sure thing is safety Damarious Randall. ASU is replacing both of its corners for the first time in four years. The Sun Devils had 21 interceptions last season; the returning players have a total of four.

Previewing Arizona State’s Specialists for 2014: 

The Sun Devils’ kicking game should be solid with punter Matt Haack and placekicker Zane Gonzalez — 25-of-30 last year — but the return and coverage teams were problems and are points of emphasis this season for coach Todd Graham. ASU needs to find a home-run returner and make better use of its athleticism in kickoff and punt coverage. 

Final Analysis 

Graham talks big — and so far has backed up his words. But given the massive remake of the defense, it’s hard to imagine the Sun Devils winning a second straight Pac-12 South title. ASU will attack offensively and score a lot of points, but it might also be on the wrong end of 45–42 games. ASU has to play at USC, Washington, Oregon State and arch-rival Arizona and also has a difficult non-conference game against Notre Dame in early November. A nine-win season would deserve applause.

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Five Reasons why Athlon Sports is Picking Arizona State No. 16:

1. One of the Pac-12’s top offenses
Seven starters return from an offense that averaged 41.2 points per game in Pac-12 action last year. Quarterback Taylor Kelly should be a lock for all-conference honors, and receiver Jaelen Strong should be better in his second year in Tempe. With the concerns on defense, Arizona State will have to score at least 40 points per game in Pac-12 contests to win the South in 2014.

2. Rebuilding effort on defense
New co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is essentially starting from scratch on defense. The Sun Devils return only two starters and will be relying on several new faces for immediate contributions. Linebacker Salamo Fiso and safety Damarious Randall are tasked with becoming the new leaders for Arizona State’s defense this year.

3. UCLA and USC return more talent
Returning starters aren’t necessarily the best way to judge how teams will perform the next year, but UCLA and USC have more talent back on campus for 2014. With Arizona State’s personnel losses, it’s going to take some time for this team to rebuild in order to compete with the Bruins and Trojans.

4. The schedule
With a rebuilding roster, a schedule that features a September game against UCLA, combined with matchups against USC, Stanford and Washington in October isn’t the ideal situation for Graham. However, the second half of the season could allow Arizona State time to build momentum in the rankings. The Sun Devils have to travel to Oregon State and Arizona and host Notre Dame in that span, but the final five games are favorable for Arizona State to pad its win total.

5. Todd Graham’s track record
In eight years as a head coach on the FBS level, Todd Graham only has one losing season and won at least 10 games in three out of his four years at Tulsa. With Arizona State recruiting well, combined with an excellent staff in Tempe, the Sun Devils shouldn’t take too much of a step back in the win column. 

The Debate

Arizona State, UCLA or USC: Who Wins the Pac-12 South in 2014?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#24 Washington Huskies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#24

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Chris Petersen, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jonathan Smith | DEF. COORDINATOR: Pete Kwiatkowski

Washington made steady progress under former coach Steve Sarkisian, increasing the win total from five in 2009 to nine in 2013. However, the Huskies never challenged Oregon or Stanford for the top spot in the North or finished better than 5-4 in Pac-12 play. New coach Chris Petersen comes to Seattle after a successful stint at Boise State. Petersen is regarded as one of the top coaches in the nation, but he inherits a roster with question marks at quarterback and running back. Are the Huskies ready to take the next step in 2014?

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Previewing Washington’s Offense for 2014:

The first order of business for new coach Chris Petersen will be to settle on a quarterback. Mobile sophomore Cyler Miles, last season’s backup, was the logical choice until the Denver-area product was arrested in connection with a couple of Super Bowl-related altercations involving Seahawks fans. Miles was cleared of any criminal charges but still missed spring practice. He was reinstated to the team in mid-May. Sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams shared spring duties and were inconsistent. The job is far from settled, but Miles is the leading candidate going into fall practice.

Sophomore Dwayne Washington, a 6'2", 221-pounder with breakaway speed, has been groomed to replace Bishop Sankey at running back and has plenty of potential. He snapped off scoring runs of 71 and 32 yards against Oregon State and 52 against Colorado. A wild card is junior linebacker Shaq Thompson, who was given several carries during the spring and was impressive.

The receivers look promising, yet there are nagging issues. Senior Kasen Williams, with career totals of 142 catches for 1,726 yards and 13 scores, is attempting to bounce back from a serious leg injury. Sophomore Damore’ea Stringfellow, a three-game starter, was charged in the Super Bowl incidents and remains suspended indefinitely. Until everyone’s status is clear, the Huskies will throw to junior Jaydon Mickens (team-leading 65 catches) and sophomore John Ross, the fastest player on the team. Junior Joshua Perkins, who had three TD catches among five receptions at tight end, is an able replacement for NFL-bound Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

A seasoned offensive line should give the new quarterback and tailback plenty of time to acclimate to their jobs. The Huskies return all five starters, four of whom are seniors.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Washington Huskies for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Previewing Washington’s Defense for 2014:

The front wall remains solidly intact with starters back at each spot, notably disruptive players in senior end Hau’oli Kikaha and senior tackle Danny Shelton. After missing consecutive seasons with knee injuries, Kikaha recorded 13 sacks and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2013. The 6'2", 332-pound Shelton is highly effective at stuffing the run.

Proven players are in abundance at linebacker in senior John Timu and Thompson, both returning starters, and junior Travis Feeney, a former starter. Timu will enter his fourth season as a first-team player and brings a steadying influence. The multi-talented Thompson plays like another safety, only closer to the line of scrimmage.

In the secondary, Petersen has major issues. He will build around junior corner Marcus Peters, one of the league’s better cover guys. Otherwise, the Huskies will turn to young, untested players to fill in the gaps. Speedy top recruit Budda Baker could find his way into the lineup immediately, either at safety or cornerback. Redshirt freshman corner Jermaine Kelly, one of the UW’s top 2013 recruits, is ready to step in.

Previewing Washington’s Specialists for 2014:

Travis Coons, who handled every field goal, extra point and punt in 2013, has moved on, leaving the kicking game unproven. Replacements are sophomore Cameron Van Winkle, who handled kickoff chores in his first year, and junior Korey Durkee, the UW’s starting punter briefly in 2012 who was limited to holder duties last season. The Huskies aren’t hurting in the return game. The versatile Ross ran back a kickoff 100 yards for a score in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

Final Analysis

Petersen inherits the bulk of a 9–4 bowl team left behind by Steve Sarkisian, who bolted after five seasons for USC. Both lines are intact. If he can find some offensive playmakers, namely a quarterback, and rebuild the depleted secondary, Petersen could move the Huskies up a notch right away and make the rest of the Pac-12 understandably uncomfortable.

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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Washington No. 24:

1. Upgrade at head coach?
Steve Sarkisian brought stability to Washington after the Huskies went 0-12 in 2008. Chris Petersen is unproven at the BCS level, but after a 92-12 mark at Boise State, he could be the right pick to move Washington up the Pac-12 pecking order.

2. Who replaces Keith Price at quarterback?
Petersen opened spring without the leading candidate to replace Keith Price, as Cyler Miles was suspended due to an off-the-field incident. Miles was reinstated in mid-May and will return in time for fall practice, but he is behind Troy Williams and Jeff Lindquist in learning the new offense.

3. Does Washington have a replacement for running back Bishop Sankey?
Sankey was one of the nation’s top running backs in 2013, recording 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns on 327 attempts. The Huskies have options in Dwayne Washington, Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, but the wildcard to watch is linebacker Shaq Thompson.

4. Favorable schedule
Due to a road trip at Hawaii to start the year, Washington will play 13 games in 2014. The Huskies should be 4-0 before a home date against Stanford on Sept. 27. Road games at Washington State, Arizona and Oregon won’t be easy, but Washington has enough winnable matchups to push for 10 victories.

5. Strength in the trenches
Washington’s offensive line play has been inconsistent in recent years, but the Huskies return all five starters for 2014. On the defensive side, end Hau’oli Kikaha and tackle Danny Shelton are among the best in the Pac-12.

The Debate

Chris Petersen or Steve Sarkisian: Who Has a Better Debut in 2014?

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