Upon arriving in Tempe last season, new Arizona State head coach Todd Graham began changing the culture within the Sun Devils’ locker room. Graham’s new approach paid immediate dividends as the Sun Devils won their first bowl game since 2008, a dominating 62-28 win over Navy. The attitude adjustment within the Arizona State’s program was most evident on the field where the Sun Devils went from having the most penalties in the conference to the fewest. With fifteen returning starters and one of the best defenses in the nation, coach Graham has his eyes set on ten or more wins in 2013.
Arizona State Offense:
- Entering the second year of coach Graham’s offensive schemes, I expect even greater production from quarterback Taylor Kelly. Kelly threw for 3,039 yards (67.1%; 29-9 ratio) last year, including breaking the school’s record for completion percentage in a season. This unit is extremely talented and deep, and I expect Kelly to dominate from behind center this season.
- The strength of Arizona State’s offense is its backfield that is anchored by Marion Grice, who possesses outstanding speed and is considered the team’s “home run” threat. Indeed, Grice garnered an incredible 19 touchdowns, which ended up being one for every 7.6 touches (best in Pac-12). Despite losing Cameron Marshall, Arizona State enters the 2013 season with one of the best backfields in college football.
Arizona State Defense:
- The Sun Devils field an elite defensive line this season that is led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, who turned down the NFL. Sutton dominated the trenches with thirteen sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss despite missing nearly two games in 2012. With nearly the entire unit back, Arizona State has one of the best defensive lines in the country.
- There is no question that Arizona State’s secondary over-achieved last season where it compiled staggering numbers (50.3%; 23-21). However, the Sun Devils return two starters and will once again boast an outstanding secondary. Arizona State’s linebackers will also be strong as five of the top 6 return, including the #3 tackler on the team (Chris Young).
Todd Graham is an excellent coach, and the results he has generated since arriving in Tempe have been impressive. With an experienced team (15 returning starters) that is familiar with his schemes on both sides of the ball, I am calling for the Sun Devils to reach ten wins this season. The key, of course, will be how Arizona State handles Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame, a difficult stretch of games that begins in September and ends October 5.