UCLA has represented the South Division in the Pac-12 Championship in each of the last two seasons. But the Bruins face stiffer competition for the top spot in 2013, as USC is due to rebound, and Arizona State is a team on the rise.
The Sun Devils finished 8-5 last year and a two-point loss to UCLA was all that separated coach Todd Graham’s team from playing in the conference title game. Graham’s hire made a big difference in Tempe, as Arizona State lost two of its games by four points or less, defeated rival Arizona and crushed Navy 62-28 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
With 14 starters back and plenty of star power on both sides of the ball, Arizona State is one of college football’s top 25 teams for 2013. The offense averaged 38.4 points per game last year and should be even better this year with another offseason for quarterback Taylor Kelly to learn under coordinator Mike Norvell. The one-two punch of Marion Grice and DJ Foster at running back is one of the best in the nation. On defense, tackle Will Sutton is an All-American, and linebacker Carl Bradford is one of the Pac-12’s most underrated players.
Arizona State has a favorable schedule this year, missing Oregon in crossover play with the North Division, while Arizona and USC come to Sun Devil Stadium.
What will Arizona State's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Arizona State's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
9/5 Sacramento State
9/21 at Stanford
10/5 Notre Dame (Arlington)
10/31 at Washington State
11/9 at Utah
11/16 Oregon State
11/23 at UCLA
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Arizona State is my pick to win the Pac-12 South this year. The Sun Devils return 14 starters and showed improvement under coach Todd Graham last season. The offense needs a new go-to receiver to emerge, but quarterback Taylor Kelly and running backs Marion Grice and DJ Foster should keep this unit performing at a high level. Arizona State ranked second in the Pac-12 in total defense and first against the pass last season, and there’s little reason to expect a drop-off. The front seven is loaded with talent, including tackle Will Sutton, linebacker Carl Bradford and sophomore nose tackle Jaxon Hood. Last year, Arizona State eliminated some of the silly mental mistakes that plagued this team in recent seasons and was one Pac-12 win away from playing for the conference title. With Oregon off the schedule and USC and Arizona visiting Sun Devil Stadium, the Pac-12 South title should run through Tempe this year.
With 14 starters returning, including linchpins on offense (quarterback Taylor Kelly) and defense (tackle Will Sutton), this could be a special season in Tempe. Todd Graham appears to have all the pieces his offense needs to be explosive and the defense returns plenty of talent and experience in addition to Sutton, the conference's reigning defensive player of the year. With non-conference matchups against Wisconsin at home and Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas, the Sun Devils should more than ready for the rigors of Pac-12 play. Road games at Stanford and UCLA won't be easy, but there's no Oregon on the schedule either. As long as everyone stays healthy and this team doesn't lose focus, the Pac-12 South title is there for the taking, as well as a potential Rose Bowl appearance.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
There are few teams in the Pac-12 as complete on both sides of the ball as the Sun Devils. This team has two marquee non-conference games and both are very winnable. Wisconsin should be a win at home early in the year and the fast track in Arlington will allow for Arizona State to fly around the field against Notre Dame. The Sun Devils could win both and enter BCS bowl talks by the first weekend of October. That said, the conference slate is downright nasty with road trips to Stanford and UCLA to go with home games against USC, Washington, Oregon State and Arizona. The good news? There is no Oregon. The bad news? If ASU can go 1-1 against the Bruins and Trojans, they should win the South, and then possibly get to play Oregon.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Arizona State will be in good shape if the Sun Devils can figure out how to win the close game. Arizona State is 4-15 in one-score games in the last five seasons. Perhaps Todd Graham helped turn the tide when the Sun Devils defeated Arizona 41-34 on the road to cap the regular season last year. Cutting the drive-killing penalties that marked the Dennis Erickson era certainly helped. I have a few bold picks here, namely an Arizona State win over Notre Dame. That may be a defensive struggle, but the Sun Devils have the offense to break a key play or two. As for the late-season losses, Oregon State generally surges late in the season, and the Beavers are good enough to win in Tempe. UCLA was my vote to win the Pac-12 South, but that game in Pasadena could be the deciding factor.
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