Arizona State Football: 2018 Sun Devils Preview and Prediction

The Sun Devils rank No. 68 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2018

The Arizona State Sun Devils won't lack for intrigue with Herm Edwards on the sideline this season. The former NFL coach hasn't worked at the college level since 1989 and is being asked to elevate Arizona State beyond what previous coach Todd Graham produced over six years in the Pac-12. In the short term, just getting to six wins would be a successful debut for Edwards. The offense should be dynamic with QB Manny Wilkins and receiver N'Keal Harry returning, and running back Eno Benjamin is a breakout candidate. However, the offense won't get on track unless a line that allowed 41 sacks in 2017 shows improvement. Defensively, the transition to a 3-3-5 scheme is underway, and there is talent on the line despite some key personnel losses. One goal for the new defensive staff: Limit big plays, which have been a huge issue at ASU in recent years.

 

Previewing Arizona State Football's Offense for 2018

 

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Arizona State has its fourth offensive coordinator in as many years, which has created an ever-moving target in terms of schematic principles and skill development. The good news is most of the key personnel returns, led by quarterback Manny Wilkins, an all-league candidate, wide receiver N'Keal Harry, a potential All-American, and four offensive line starters. The Sun Devils will remain a spread, 11-personnel base offense under coordinator Rob Likens, elevated to the role by new head coach Herm Edwards. They'll reduce the breadth of their run-game concepts and emphasize execution, with a heavy dose of run-pass options and quick-hitting screens.

 

Stanford post-graduate transfer Casey Tucker will take over at left tackle, with junior Cohl Cabral shifting to center in what will be one of the Pac-12's most experienced offensive lines. Junior wide receiver Kyle Williams is a burgeoning star to complement Harry, the Pac-12's top returning pass catcher.

 

The running back position has been refreshed with talented sophomore Eno Benjamin, the top recruit in ASU's 2017 signing class, leading the way and four newcomers arriving this summer. Expect the Sun Devils to throw more to the backs this year as well.

 

A lot of quarterback talent has left the Pac-12 from last season, giving a very experienced Wilkins a chance to shine under a brighter spotlight, with the benefit of one of the league's top receiver duos to showcase.

 

Previewing Arizona State Football's Defense for 2018

 

First-year coordinator Danny Gonzales is managing an overhaul that starts with installation of a 3-3-5 scheme authored by his mentor, San Diego State's Rocky Long. It's different in some key respects from any other Pac-12 defense in how it attacks and defends the run, with a hybrid safety-linebacker position named after ASU legend Pat Tillman taking center stage. The Sun Devils don't have anyone established for the role yet, with senior Dasmond Tautalatasi and sophomore Evan Fields the top options.

 

Cornerback Chase Lucas was Pac-12's only freshman all-league player, while Kobe Williams returns as a very capable starter at the position. Senior Jalen Harvey started at receiver last year but converted to safety, where he'll have a big role.

 

The Sun Devils are thin at linebacker but have some potential star power. Senior Koron Crump earned an extra year of eligibility via appeal and will be one of the league's top pass rushers. Converted tight end Jay Jay Wilson showed promise at linebacker last year and had a terrific offseason.

 

Senior nose tackle Renell Wren is arguably the team's best NFL prospect and the centerpiece of a deep defensive line that includes George Lea and Shannon Forman, both of whom played a lot last season.

 

Previewing Arizona State Football's Specialists for 2018

 

Sophomore placekicker Brandon Ruiz is one of the top young talents at the position in the country. Junior punter Michael Sleep-Dalton is a returning starter who battled injury problems last season but still showed reasonably well. The Sun Devils need to improve their return game.

 

Final Analysis

 

The presence a handful of top-shelf Pac-12 players may mask to some degree the scope of ASU's overhaul, but at least it'll give the staff a boost in the transitional phase. While the Sun Devils likely won't challenge for the Pac-12 South division title, they have potential to remain relevant into November. All eyes will be on Edwards, one of the most intriguing hires in college football in years.

 

NATIONAL RANKING: 68
PAC-12 SOUTH PREDICTION: 6

Event Date: 
Friday, May 25, 2018 - 10:59

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