2012 Record: 8-5 (5-4 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: Todd Graham (second year at Arizona State, 57-34 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: beat Navy 62-28
Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ (capacity = 71,706)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 38th out of 69 BCS teams
Out of Conference: 9/5 vs Sacramento State, 9/14 vs Wisconsin, 10/5 vs Notre Dame
Toughest Road Games: 9/21 at Stanford, 11/23 at UCLA
Stat to Fear: allowed 38 sacks in 2012
Stats to Cheer: least penalized team in Pac-12 with 35.3 ypg, held opponents to 79.07% score rate in red zone, had 51 sacks in 2012 (2nd in Pac-12)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 37th out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 8, Special Teams: 1
Key Defensive Returnees: DT Will Sutton (12 sacks, 63 tackles), LB Carl Bradford (80 tackles, 11.5 sacks), LB/DB Chris Young (83 tackles), S Alden Darby (80 tackles), DE Davon Coleman (66 tackles, 5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Taylor Kelly (3040 yds pass, 66.9% completions, 29 TD, 9 INT, 520 yds rush), RB Marion Grice (679 yds rush, 6.59 ypc, 11 TD, 41 rec), RB DJ Foster (493 yds rush, 4.83 ypc, 38 rec), TE Chris Coyle (57 rec, 5 TD)
Inside Scoop with The Saturday Edge:
CFBZ: In his debut season at Arizona State, Todd Graham increased the Sun Devils win total by two games. What did he do well in year one and what will he need to improve on heading into year two?
The Saturday Edge: Todd Graham brought discipline and accountability to a team that desperately needed both. Before Graham’s arrival ASU was an undisciplined team where immaturity and mental breakdowns undermined an extremely talented roster.
In 2011, the Sun Devils led the nation in penalty yardage, averaging 79.77 penalty yards per game and most of those were dumb personal fouls occurring at inopportune times. Last season, the Sun Devils ranked first in the PAC 12 in penalties and No. 8 in the country, averaging just 34.92 penalty yards per game.
Graham has stated throughout the off season that ASU needs to get better at stopping the run. The Sun Devils led the nation with nine tackles-for-loss per game and finished second nationally with four sacks per game, but they finished a disappointing 83rd in the country against the run allowing 182.85 yards per game and 17 rushing TDs.
In the 5 games they lost, ASU allowed 225.20 yards per game on the ground and 12 rushing TDs. By contrast, in the 7 games they won against FBS competition the Sun Devils allowed 166.14 yards per game and only 5 rushing TDs.
CFBZ: The Sun Devils hit a four game slide near the end of the season. Why did they struggle at this point of the season?
The Saturday Edge: Unfortunately they finally started playing good competition and were exposed as being nothing more than a slightly better than average team. In their first six games, all against teams with losing records, ASU went 5-1. However, during the four game losing streak the Sun Devils played four of the PAC 12’s best teams including both divisional champions as well as Oregon State and USC.
Overall ASU only beat one winning team during the regular season last year (a come from behind victory over rival Arizona) and then out-talented an overmatched Navy team in the bowl game.
CFBZ: What are the biggest question marks on this team heading into the 2013 season?
The Saturday Edge: Without question the biggest question mark of this team heading into 2013 is at wide receiver. It was a sore spot in Graham's first season, and it continues to be an issue. Last year tight end Chris Coyle led the team in receptions (57) and yards (696). Only one true receiver, then senior Rashad Ross, tallied more than 400 yards, as Coyle and running backs D.J. Foster and Marion Grice finished 1, 3 & 4 in receiving yards.
"You can come out here in a hurry and see wide receivers (are an issue)," Graham said. "I can't wait to get the five guys we signed in here. … We don't have very many scholarship receivers out here."
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?
The Saturday Edge: Last year there were no expectations and a lot of question marks for this team and they responded with a fine season. They beat nearly every team they were supposed to beat, going 7-1 in games they were favored to win.
This year is a different story. Expectations for this team have been ramped up considerably and they enter 2013 as one of the pre-season favorites to win the PAC 12 South. Unfortunately the schedule also ramps up BIG TIME too. The Sun Devils go from playing Illinois and Missouri in non-conference games last year, to playing Wisconsin and Notre Dame this year, two teams coming off BCS Bowl appearances. In PAC 12 play they must travel to both of last year’s divisional champs (Stanford & UCLA), and have tough home games against USC, Washington, Oregon State and Arizona. Overall the Sun Devils go from playing 5 bowl teams in the regular season last year (going 1-4) to playing 8 this season.
The Sun Devils have enough experience and talent to compete with USC & UCLA for the PAC 12 South title. Their defense will be one of the best in the conference and their offense, led by underrated QB Taylor Kelly, will continue to be productive. However with a much more difficult OOC schedule and several “toss-up” conference games, I believe matching last year’s 8 win total would actually be a very successful season.
Todd Graham surpassed our expectations last year and he's actually sticking around for a second year. This year, Graham should be able to keep the momentum going forward but as was noted in the Q&A, the schedule ramps up significantly so just how much better will the Sun Devils be this season?
QB Taylor Kelly didn't throw for the 4,000 yards that Brock Osweiler did in 2011 but he was much more efficient as he threw for a better percentage, had a better yards/attempt average, had more TDs and had less interceptions. Now a junior, Kelly should continue to blossom in this offense. At RB, the Sun Devils return Marion Grice (679 yds) and DJ Foster (493) so they look set at that position. As mentioned in the Q&A, the big opportunity is at WR as the leading receiver last year was a tight end and the third and fourth leaders were running backs (the second leading receiver was an actual WR but he was a senior). The OL returns three of five starters and a total of five players who have combined for 65 starts.
The defense improved in 2012 by 4.3 ppg and 71.8 ypg. They return a lot of talent from that same defense that made those improvements last season. One area Arizona State improved immensely was in getting to the QB as they had 51 sacks in 2012 versus just 24 in 2011. ASU returns everybody off of their DL including Will Sutton (13 sacks), Junior Onyeali (6 sacks) and Davon Coleman (5 sacks). The LB corps will have to replace Brandon Magee but return everybody else of note. The front seven for the Sun Devils should be quite formidable this season. The secondary must replace two starters but will get EMU transfer CB Marlon Pollard (who had a pick in the spring game).
On paper this team should be better than last season but the schedule could be the Sun Devils undoing. After playing Sacramento State in the opener, the Sun Devils must play Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks. It wouldn't be shocking to see this team sitting at 1-4. Even if that worst case scenario does happen, the schedule is build so they can bounce back with a four game stretch of Colorado, Washington, Wazzu and Utah. Ultimately, this season will come down to the final three games. Home against Oregon State, at UCLA and then home against Arizona. That stretch run will decide if this season is a success or not. Vegas has set the win total at 9.5, which seems a little rich for my blood. I like this team and it's heading in the right direction but this is a very tough schedule.
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews: