COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
Pac-12 South PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Todd Graham, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Norvell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Paul Randolph, Ron West
It’s probably a good thing new Arizona State coach Todd Graham can talk such a good game, because it’s unlikely the Sun Devils’ offense will excite anybody this season. All ASU has to do is replace its starting quarterback, its top three receivers and three-fifths of its starting offensive line.
The toughest blow, by far, was the loss of quarterback Brock Osweiler, who unexpectedly turned pro after his junior season. Had Osweiler returned, the lack of experience elsewhere might have been negated by his experience and big right arm. Now, the Sun Devils will count on either sophomore Mike Bercovici or redshirt freshman Michael Eubank, neither of whom has started a college game. Although Bercovici won the backup job last year, Eubank could wind up with the top spot because he’s the better athlete, and Graham recruited him while coach at Pittsburgh.
Given the inexperience at quarterback and wideout — ASU doesn’t have a legitimate No. 1 receiver — the Sun Devils are fortunate they have several productive backs, led by Cameron Marshall, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2011 despite a bum ankle. Expect the Sun Devils to lean heavily on their running game until the starting quarterback — whoever he is — and the young receivers grow up.
As is the case with the offense, ASU has a lot of ground to make up. It lost both of its starting safeties and its three starting linebackers, and its best pass-rusher, Junior Onyeali, was suspended for all of spring ball. Despite that, the defense could be a strong point if — and it’s a big if — several things go right. Most notably, Onyeali needs to be in good standing; ASU simply doesn’t have a lot of natural pass-rushers. Plus, junior college recruit Mike Pennel has to be able to solidify the middle of the line, and Alden Darby needs to emerge as the type of playmaker at safety he was at cornerback.
The biggest uncertainty, however, is at linebacker. ASU will have three new starters after losing four productive players — yes, that includes Vontaze Burfict — in the offseason. It’s imperative Brandon Magee is healthy after missing all of 2011 with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
ASU will play a 4-3 base and expect its corners to hold up in one-on-one coverage. The Sun Devils have the talent on the outside to do that — they return their top three corners — but the question is whether they can get a consistent pass rush from the defensive line and linebacking corps. Without it, they’ll be as vulnerable as they were the final five games of last season, when they surrendered an average of 40 points per game.
ASU will be strong in the return game with Jamal Miles, who returned three kicks for touchdowns last season. Punter Josh Hubner should be solid, but the Devils can’t afford another inconsistent season from placekicker Alex Garoutte, who made just 15-of-22 attempts in 2011 and missed several critical kicks.
This is clearly a transitional year for Graham and the Sun Devils. ASU lost a ton of talent on both sides of the ball; it has to break in a new, inexperienced quarterback, and there will be an adjustment period as the players get used to the new coaching staff and its schemes.
The schedule isn’t as favorable as it was last year, either. ASU ends the year with three road games in four weeks. A .500 record would be a successful first season for Graham.