College Football 2015 Preview No. 23: Arizona State Sun Devils
Regular Season Records: 9-3, 10-2, 7-5, 6-6
SRS Rankings: 16, 7, 27, 4o
Talking Point: Stability. Todd Graham is in his fourth year at the same FBS school. He’s coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons. He’s making bold fashion choices and wearing weird minimalist headphones. Winning with his players, making the leap forward to get into the national title mix, maybe the hottest candidate if a major job opens next winter. Choose your narrative.
Why To Like Them: Dennis Erickson underachieved. Graham has brushed the ceiling. Mike Bercovici played very well filling in for Taylor Kelly at QB last year. D.J. Foster can make plays as a slot receiver and out of the back field. There should be enough there for Mike Norvell to work with. The defense returns depth and much more experience than it had last year.
Why Not To Like Them: The Sun Devils lose few players. But, the ones leaving were important. Jaelen Strong, with 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns, was one of college football’s top receivers. Jamil Douglas was a four-year starter and all-conference LT (starting RT Tyler Sulka leaves as well). DE Marcus Hardison (10 sacks and 15 TFL) and safety Demarious Randall (9.5 TFL) depart on defense. Davon Durant, a JC transfer supposed to make up for that production, was booted from the team after a domestic violence incident. Who are the standout players to bring this team a step forward?
Schedule: It’s not an easy schedule. The Sun Devils play nine conference games and open the season with Texas A&M. That acknowledged, five of their conference games are at home, including USC, Oregon and Arizona. Two of the road trips are Washington State and Cal. They don’t play Stanford. The Pac 12 can offer worse.
Throwing Darts: The Sun Devils are a legit Top 25 team. They’ll also play three of those in their first five games, and still have Oregon and a road trip to Utah before October’s end. 8 or 9 wins seems like a reasonable projection. Depending on the wins, that could place them firmly in the Pac 12 South race. Playoff may be pushing it.