Stanford and Oregon have been the sexy picks to win the Pac-12 in 2011 as both teams are ranked in the top 10 and have national title aspirations. However, Arizona State is a team that could surprise and upset the Cardinal and Ducks as Pac-12 champions. The Sun Devils aren’t going to do anything flashy, but they are an extremely well-balanced football team that is solid at every position, which is difficult to find in college teams.
The Sun Devils will look to do a lot of damage on the ground this season as head coach Dennis Erickson has made it known that he wants to run the football with this team. Arizona State has two extremely talented running backs. Cameron Mitchell will once again be the go to guy in the backfield as he ran for 787 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. He showed a great combination of being able to take it to the outside and run between the tackles. Deantre Lewis also saw plenty of carries last season as he rushed for 539 yards and 4 touchdowns, while averaging nearly 6 yards per carry. These two backs should have plenty of success in 2011 as the Sun Devils return each and every starting lineman from a year ago. Look for Arizona State to become a very successful running team this season.
Arizona State will start 6’8 junior Brock Osweiler at quarterback. Osweiler has bounced in and out as the Sun Devils’ quarterback over the last few years. A year ago he started the last two games for Arizona State and was extremely successful. He won both games, while throwing for five touchdowns and not turning the ball over. Osweiler helped the Sun Devils finish .500 by hanging 59 points on UCLA and upsetting Arizona on the road. With such a strong running game, look for Erickson to protect Osweiler early in the season.
The Sun Devils have two big receivers in Mike Willie and Gerell Robinson, both of whom are 6’4 and over 220 pounds. These two sure-handed wide outs will compliment the running game perfectly as Osweiler will be able to set up the play action and throw the ball down field. Willie and Robinson have the ability to go up and get passes, so a big play is only moments away when the Sun Devils have the ball.
One thing Arizona State lacked last season was a speedy wide receiver. Having a player like that on your team is becoming a necessity if you want to make plays on offense as every team needs a guy that can get outside and make plays. Someone will have to step up and do that for the Sun Devils. Redshirt freshman Kevin Anderson has a chance to be the guy as the coaching staff has been impressed with Anderson’s ability to make things happen. He will also return punts and kicks for Arizona State. A big play, speedy slot wide receiver is exactly what this team needs and if Anderson can step up, the Sun Devils have the ability to surprise teams in the Pac-12.
The Sun Devils return eight players on defense, a group highlighted by linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive back Omar Bolden. Both players were named to the preseason All Pac-12 team and have a chance to be national All-Americans. Burfict will be a disruption to opposing offenses as he recorded 90 tackles last season, nine of which were for loss. Burfict is one of those linebackers that is everywhere and will be the leader of Arizona State’s defense.
Bolden will be starting for the third consecutive year at defensive back. He tied for the team lead with three interceptions last year, but that doesn’t speak to how good Bolden really was. He shut down his man each and every time on the field and teams simply refuse to throw his way. Deveron Carr and Clint Floyd will team up with Bolden to form the Pac-12’s best secondary.
Arizona State is my dark horse to win the Pac-12 as they possess an outstanding running game, which is complimented by one of the best defenses in the country. The Sun Devils caught a break with their schedule as they don’t play Stanford in the regular season. If Arizona State can beat either USC or Oregon, the Sun Devils will have an excellent chance to play in the first ever Pac-12 Championship Game.
Written By: Jay Louis
Edited By: Jeff Keim