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1. And now, a reset
Nobody ever accused Dennis Erickson of failing to attract athletes. From Washington State to Miami to Oregon State to Arizona State, Erickson fielded teams that more than passed the eyeball test. They had swagger and speed in abundance.
And while a lot of his teams were maddeningly inconsistent -- after going 11-1 at Oregon State in 2000, his Beavers went 13-11 the next two years; and after going 10-3 in 2007, his first season at Arizona State, his Sun Devils went only 21-28 over the next four -- he is one hell of a table-setter.
At OSU, he left Mike Riley with plenty of athletes, and Riley hit the ground running, going 15-10 in his first two years back in Corvallis. And at ASU, he left Todd Graham with a full cupboard, from quarterback Taylor Kelly, to all-conference offensive linemen Evan Finkenberg and Jamil Douglas, to defensive tackle/missile Will Sutton, to ace pass rusher Carl Bradford, to safety Alden Darby, to cornerback Osahon Irabor.
Graham very much knew what to do with what he inherited. He plumped up the depth with some impressive early recruiting, and he went to work. ASU went from 6-7 and 44th in the F/+ rankings to 8-5 and 41st in 2012. The defense swarmed and the offense surged late in the year. And in 2013, everything fell into place. ASU jumped to 13th overall -- 11th on offense, 26th on defense -- and ripped off seven consecutive wins to take the Pac-12 South title and win 10+ games for the first time since 2007 (and only the third time since 1986).
Granted, there was some slippage late in the season. ASU couldn't clear the Stanford hurdle, losing twice to David Shaw's Cardinal by a combined 38 points. And the Sun Devils laid an egg in the Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech, throwing haymakers early and getting confused when the Red Raiders didn't fold quickly (a la 2012 Florida in the Sugar Bowl). But Graham's second season was easily ASU's best since Erickson's first. ASU was fast, aggressive, and exciting.
And now Graham starts over. Granted, the offense should be alright; Taylor Kelly returns, as do breakout receiver Jaelen Strong and three starters on the offensive line (including Douglas). But the defense faces a significant rebuild; the top three linemen, four of the top five linebackers, and five of the top seven defensive backs are gone. The combination of Erickson recruits and JUCO transfers gave ASU significant depth of experience in 2013, but experience turns into inexperience.
Graham has recruited pretty well, and he has exciting young players at every level of the defense. Plus, when he chooses to stay in one place for long enough, he is a hell of a coach, an Erickson 2.0 of sorts, molding athletic, confident squads. But it's impossible to assume anything but a defensive dropoff this year, even if it's just temporary. Over the first half of the season, ASU will face UCLA, USC, and Stanford, three of the Pac-12's five best teams. It's conceivable that 2014 will take on a narrative like 2012, when the Sun Devils struggled along the way but finished strong.
This is a "measure the fall" season for Graham and ASU. The Sun Devils almost certainly won't finish 13th overall again, but if they only fall to about 20th or so, they are in for some spectacular success over the coming years. And even if they fall to 30th-40th, they're stocked well for a rebound in 2015. After doing what he did in 2013, Graham has earned a mulligan; we'll see if he has to use it this fall.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 10-4 | Adj. Record: 11-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 13|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|5-Sep||Sacramento State||N/A||55-0||W||27.1 - 12.7||W|
|14-Sep||Wisconsin||19||32-30||W||38.8 - 24.2||W|
|21-Sep||at Stanford||3||28-42||L||30.2 - 29.2||W|
|28-Sep||USC||11||62-41||W||61.3 - 34.1||W|
|5-Oct||vs. Notre Dame||26||34-37||L||33.0 - 25.2||W||13.0|
|12-Oct||Colorado||95||54-13||W||37.5 - 23.3||W||13.0|
|19-Oct||Washington||18||53-24||W||43.0 - 11.8||W||16.3|
|31-Oct||at Washington State||53||55-21||W||37.8 - 20.3||W||19.5|
|9-Nov||at Utah||31||20-19||W||21.0 - 13.5||W||15.6|
|16-Nov||Oregon State||42||30-17||W||21.2 - 24.0||L||13.5|
|23-Nov||at UCLA||15||38-33||W||36.6 - 28.0||W||12.4|
|30-Nov||Arizona||25||58-21||W||37.2 - 21.4||W||9.3|
|7-Dec||Stanford||3||14-38||L||24.7 - 34.9||L||3.8|
|30-Dec||vs. Texas Tech||43||23-37||L||25.4 - 30.0||L||1.3|
|Points Per Game||39.7||10||26.6||64|
|Adj. Points Per Game||33.9||24||23.8||26|
2. Cracks were forming before Tech
As late as the second week of November, ASU was ranked sixth in the F/+ rankings. With losses to only Stanford and Notre Dame and huge wins over USC and Washington, the Sun Devils were showing high upside on both sides of the ball -- they ranked seventh in Off. F/+ and 12th in Def. F/+.
The wins continued in November, but there were warning signs.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 9 games): ASU 36.6, Opponent 21.8 (plus-14.8)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): ASU 29.0, Opponent 27.7 (plus-1.3)
The offense managed just 4.2 yards per play against Utah, and the Sun Devils were outgained by 51 yards and 0.9 yards per play in a win over Oregon State. Strong performances against UCLA and Arizona gave ASU the South title, but the season ended with two poor performances, first at home against Stanford, then in San Diego against the Fightin' Kingsburys.
So what does that mean for 2014? Hard to say. Leading rusher Marion Grice missed the final three games of the season but was in uniform for the duds against Utah and OSU, and as a whole, ASU was rather lucky when it comes to injuries. Whatever the reason, the Sun Devils faded a bit; that probably can't happen in 2014, when the offense is asked to carry a bit more weight.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||45.7%||36||Succ. Rt. +||115.0||21|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.4||39||Def. FP+||104.4||15|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||29||Redzone S&P+||109.7||29|
|Q1 Rk||20||1st Down Rk||20|
|Q2 Rk||9||2nd Down Rk||21|
|Q3 Rk||69||3rd Down Rk||41|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Taylor Kelly||6'2, 211||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||302||484||3635||28||12||62.4%||39||7.5%||6.6|
|Mike Bercovici||6'1, 203||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||3||4||18||0||0||75.0%||1||20.0%||2.0|
|Manny Wilkins||6'2, 181||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
3. Your patented diamond-in-the-rough recruit
Mike Norvell found one hell of a muse in Taylor Kelly. Norvell has been a Graham assistant at Tulsa, Pitt, and ASU, and he has crafted a unique offense of pace and hybrids; last year, for instance, D.J. Foster was the Sun Devils' second-leading rusher and second-leading receiver. A scatback for a new generation, if you will. But in Kelly and Norvell, ASU has a perfect marriage between offensive philosophy and QB skill.
Kelly was more or less a recruiting afterthought; a lanky, two-star dual-threat from Eagle, Idaho, Kelly boasted of offers only from ASU and Nevada and chose the Sun Devils relatively late in the 2010 recruiting cycle. He backed up big Brock Osweiler in 2011, then beat out Mike Bercovici and others for the starting job under Graham and Norvell in 2012. His first-year stats were revelatory: a 67 percent completion rate, 29 touchdowns to nine interceptions, 6.7 yards per carry (not including sacks), 3,039 passing yards, 689 pre-sack rushing yards.
Kelly's stats regressed a bit in 2013; without No. 1 receiver Rashad Ross, he completed just 62 percent of his passes, and his per-attempt average (inc. sacks) regressed from 7.3 to 6.6. Opponents were able to adjust to his rushing tendencies, as well, and his per-carry average fell from 6.7 yards to 5.9.
The regression is a bit misleading, however. First, Kelly was asked to do more. Norvell didn't protect him as much, and ASU moved toward more of a pass-first approach on standard downs. Beyond that, however, Kelly's raw stats regressed a bit because of the defenses he was facing: Wisconsin (ninth in Def. F/+), Stanford (fourth), USC (fifth), Notre Dame (33rd), Washington (21st), Utah (30th), UCLA (23rd), Arizona (27th), Stanford again. In 14 games, ASU faced nine defenses ranked better than 35th in Def. F/+, four ranked better than 10th. That's how your quarterback's stats can regress while your offense improves from 51st in Off. F/+ to 11th.
|Taylor Kelly||QB||6'2, 211||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||134||784||9||5.9||5.6||41.8%|
|D.J. Foster||RB||5'11, 203||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||93||501||6||5.4||4.5||44.1%|
|Deantre Lewis||RB||5'11, 194||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||58||301||1||5.2||4.6||39.7%|
|De'Marieya Nelson||TE||6'3, 224||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||15||96||2||6.4||10.5||33.3%|
|Mike Bercovici||QB||6'1, 203||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||9||54||0||6.0||2.6||55.6%|
|Kyle Middlebrooks||RB||5'9, 185||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|De'Chavon Hayes||RB||5'11, 192||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Kalen Ballage||RB||6'3, 215||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Demario Richard||RB||5'10, 203||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Jaelen Strong||WR-X||6'4, 212||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||120||75||1122||62.5%||25.3%||63.6%||9.4||200||9.3||154.3|
|D.J. Foster||RB||5'11, 203||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||91||63||650||69.2%||19.2%||64.5%||7.1||-86||7.3||89.4|
|Cameron Smith||WR-Y||6'0, 187||So.||3 stars (5.5)||19||8||129||42.1%||4.0%||61.5%||6.8||6||9.8||17.7|
|De'Marieya Nelson||TE||6'3, 224||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||15||7||107||46.7%||3.2%||61.5%||7.1||6||7.9||14.7|
|Deantre Lewis||RB||5'11, 194||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||11||9||110||81.8%||2.3%||60.0%||10.0||13||8.9||15.1|
|Frederick Gammage||WR-Z||5'10, 173||So.||NR||6||6||32||100.0%||1.3%||100.0%||5.3||-28||3.8||4.4|
|Gary Chambers||WR-Y||6'3, 209||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Ronald Lewis||WR-Z||6'0, 188||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Ellis Jefferson||WR-X||6'4, 209||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Grant Martinez||TE||6'5, 220||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Eric Lauderdale||WR||6'2, 195||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jalen Harvey||WR||6'2, 185||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Tyler Whiley||WR||6'0, 193||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
4. Strong, Foster, and we'll see
A three-star JUCO transfer from Pierce College, Jaelen Strong emerged to take Rashad Ross' place as Kelly's No. 1 target in 2013. A majority of his damage came earlier in the season -- first six games: 42 catches, 678 yards, four scores; last eight: 33 catches, 444 yards, three scores -- but he still provided more than a newcomer typically should. With a year of Pac-12 experience under his belt, he should be a solid option in 2014. Plus, D.J. Foster returns. Foster and Marion Grice combined for incredibly unique production last fall: 284 carries for 1,497 yards, 156 targets and 113 catches for 1,088 yards. That's 31 intended touches and 185 yards per game, and that's with Grice missing the final three games of the year. Foster is sturdily built, but we'll see how many times he's asked to touch the ball in 2014.
Some of Foster's load might depend on who else steps up. Senior Deantre Lewis did pretty well when given the opportunity (69 intended touches, 411 yards), and sophomore Cameron Smith seems to have some upside. But it's hard to ignore the newcomers: four-star freshman running back Kalen Ballage, JUCO RB De'Chavon Hayes, four-star JUCO receiver Eric Lauderdale, four-star freshman receivers Jalen Harvey and Tyler Whiley.
If one of those five players becomes an immediate, dangerous option, ASU's offense will be fine. If two step up quickly, there's really no reason to think this offense will slip much, if any, from last season. The recruiting profiles suggest that's not too much to ask, but it's an unknown for now.
|Evan Finkenberg||LT||47||1st All-Pac-12|
|Jamil Douglas||LT||6'4, 300||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||27||2nd All-Pac-12|
|Vi Teofilo||RG||6'3, 303||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||17|
|Tyler Sulka||RT||6'5, 294||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||15|
|Christian Westerman||LG||6'4, 304||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0|
|Evan Goodman||LT||6'4, 311||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0|
|Nick Kelly||C||6'4, 294||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Devin Goodman||RG||6'1, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|William McGehee||RT||6'6, 305||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0|
|Stephon McCray||LG||6'3, 313||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Sam Jones||OL||6'5, 285||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
5. The line could stand to improve
Even with a pair of all-conference performers on the left side of the line, and even with basically perfect continuity (five players starting 14 games each), the ASU line was only decent in 2013. I'll pin some of the iffy sack rates on Taylor Kelly, who fulfills the stereotype of a dual-threat quarterback by trusting his legs too much and taking too many sacks; still, the run blocking was only decent, too. When your offense ranks ranks 11th in overall Off. F/+ but you rank 45th in Adj. Line Yards, that can suggest that the line's holding you back a bit from higher heights.
Three of last year's five full-season starters are back, including Jamil Douglas, who moves from left guard to left tackle. And if Christian Westerman and/or Evan Goodman can begin living up to recruiting hype (especially Westerman's), there's no reason to think the line will regress much. But if it doesn't improve, it might again be a bit of an albatross for the offense as a whole. It's not a bad line, but it might still be the least effective unit on the offense.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||36.5%||13||Succ. Rt. +||122.0||8|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||33.7||4||Off. FP+||110.6||1|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||87||Redzone S&P+||85.8||99|
|Q1 Rk||10||1st Down Rk||14|
|Q2 Rk||25||2nd Down Rk||23|
|Q3 Rk||45||3rd Down Rk||29|
6. 2 starters
Using returning starters as a guide for projections or predictions is a bit rudimentary as a whole. It serves a clear purpose from a 20,000-foot view, and it gives you an adequate view of a unit's experience, but one can dial in a bit further using percentages -- returning percent of a defensive line's tackles, an offense's rushing yards, etc.
No matter how deep you choose to dig, however, you're not going to find many good things about Arizona State's defensive experience in 2014.
- Two returning starters.
- Sixteen percent of tackles and 10 percent of tackles for loss returning on the defensive line.
- Thirty-one percent of tackles, 15 percent of tackles for loss, and eight percent of passes defensed returning in the linebacking corps.
- Thirty-three percent of tackles and 20 percent of passes defensed returning in the secondary.
- Six of 17 players with at least 10.0 tackles in 2013.
All bad things.
Keith Patterson joins the ASU coaching staff this year; an old friend and colleague of Graham, he served as Graham's defensive co-coordinator or coordinator at Tulsa (2006-10) and Pitt (2011) before moving on to Arkansas State (2012) and West Virginia (2013). He takes on a unit that was rather unfairly criticized a year ago.
With eight returning starters, including most of the front seven, ASU's defense was supposed to improve last fall. It did improve -- from 31st in Def. F/+ to 26th -- but the improvement wasn't particularly significant, and because of the increase in schedule strength, it was difficult to see at all. ASU went from allowing 4.8 yards per play in 2012 to 5.5 in 2013, and the Sun Devils' fell from averaging 9.1 tackles for loss per game to 7.2.
There were certainly more glitches, more breakdowns for a defense that is willing to allow a few big plays to make a lot of big plays. But this was still a sturdy D, one of the most efficient units in the country and one that set its offense with impeccable field position time and again. And now it starts over. A Todd Graham defense wants to attack; can it this year?
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jaxon Hood||DT||6'0, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||14.5||2.0%||3.0||0.0||0||2||0||0|
|Marcus Hardison||DE||6'5, 298||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||5.0||0.7%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Mo Latu||NT||6'3, 384||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||11||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Demetrius Cherry||DT||6'6, 298||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Corey Smith||DT||6'7, 282||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Zach Abdorrahimzadeh||NT||6'2, 280||Jr.||NR|
|Edmond Boateng||DE||6'4, 267||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Connor Humphreys||DE||6'4, 275||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Tashon Smallwood||DT||6'1, 292||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Salamo Fiso||SAM||6'0, 236||So.||3 stars (5.7)||14||59.5||8.0%||5.5||3.0||0||0||0||0|
|Laiu Moeakiola||SPUR||6'0, 211||So.||3 stars (5.6)||10||16.5||2.2%||0.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|De'Marieya Nelson||DEVIL||6'3, 230||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||14||14.0||1.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||2||0|
|Antonio Longino||WILL||6'3, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||8||4.5||0.6%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Carlos Mendoza||WILL||6'1, 234||So.||3 stars (5.6)||6||4.5||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Washington||SPUR||6'0, 223||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Eriquel Florence||DEVIL||6'1, 253||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Viliami Latu||DEVIl||6'2, 265||So.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Chans Cox||DEVIL||6'3, 245||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Alani Latu||SAM||6'2, 236||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|DJ Calhoun||WILL||6'0, 205||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Ishmael Murphy-Richardson||LB||6'4, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Christian Sam||LB||6'1, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
7. A brand new pass rush
The run defense might not necessarily suffer much. The Sun Devils return plenty of size -- the three most experienced returnees on the line (last year's backups) average 6'3, 327. Size alone doesn't equal run stopping, but there's hope here, especially considering four of the returnees' 21.5 tackles in 2013 came behind the line.
That said, a lack of experience could lead to more breakdowns. And more tangibly, the pass rush has been decimated. Six players had at least 3.0 sacks a year ago; five are gone. Salamo Fiso had exactly 3.0 and is now the team's returning leader in that regard. There are plenty of former star recruits in the mix at linebacker -- sophomore Viliamu Latu, redshirt freshman Chans Cox, freshman DJ Calhoun, and lots of high three-star guys -- but one has to wonder if Graham and Patterson will feel quite as comfortable sending the house at the opposing quarterback as they did last year.
ASU was second in the country in Adj. Sack Rate; harassment was a huge part of their game, and now they'll go about attempting it with an almost completely new cast.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Damarious Randall||FS||6'0, 189||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||59.5||8.0%||5.5||0||3||3||2||0|
|Lloyd Carrington||CB||5'11, 189||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||22.5||3.0%||0||0||1||1||1||0|
|Ezekiel Bishop||BS||5'11, 191||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||7||6.0||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Solomon Means||CB||6'1, 174||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Jordan Simone||BS||6'0, 190||Jr.||NR|
|Marcus Ball||BS||6'3, 216||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|James Johnson||FS||6'2, 198||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Jayme Otomewo||S||6'2, 186||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|William Earley||CB||6'1, 206||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Kweishi Brown||DB||6'0, 198||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Marcus Mehlhaf-Brown||CB||6'2, 167||Jr.||NR|
8. Youth = breakdowns
A lesser pass rush will put more pressure on the secondary to hold its coverage and make plays. The return of senior safety Damarious Randall will help, and Lloyd Carrington held his own at times as a third corner.
But they're basically the only 2013 contributors still on the roster. Star safety Alden Darby is gone, as are active corners Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor (combined: 5.5 tackles for loss, 23 passes defensed). Projected starting corner Rashad Wadood transferred to Eastern Washington.
It's conceivable that ASU will be starting two redshirt freshmen in the secondary: Marcus Ball finished the spring tied atop the depth chart with Jordan Simone at boundary safety, and in Wadood's absence, either William Earley, Solomon Means, or JUCO transfer Marcus Melhof-Brown could start at the other corner spot. It's also possible that Randall moves to cornerback full-time, but that would plug one hole and open up another one.
Again, they might be athletic enough to make some plays, and they should improve as the year progresses. But ASU already had a bit of a big-play-breakdowns problem last year, and that could metastasize with youth.
|Alex Garoutte||6'1, 207||Sr.||35||38.8||8||14||5||54.3%|
|Matt Haack||6'1, 195||So.||16||38.3||1||6||3||56.3%|
|Alex Garoutte||6'1, 207||Sr.||106||62.2||39||3||36.8%|
|Zane Gonzalez||6'1, 184||So.||63-65||21-24||87.5%||4-6||66.7%|
|Special Teams F/+||60|
|Field Goal Efficiency||46|
|Punt Return Efficiency||92|
|Kick Return Efficiency||84|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||54|
9. Help in special teams
Your defense was a field poition gem, and now you have to replace almost every difference maker. You might need to get more help from a field position unit that was decent if unspectacular last year, but at least you've got kicker Alex Garoutte back. And new return men might not be a bad thing, since nobody was incredibly successful in that position last year.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|6-Sep||at New Mexico||115|
|15-Nov||at Oregon State||43|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||10.1% (33)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||23|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||15 / 6.5|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||8 (6, 2)|
10. How much noise can Sun Devil Stadium make?
I really like what Todd Graham is building in Tempe. He's recruiting well, he has coordinators who are both familiar and effective, he's recruited four-star guys at almost every position, he has maintained the level of athleticism that Erickson left for him, and he has won 18 games in two years in an improving conference. Long-term, there's a lot to like about ASU, even if the tie between "Todd Graham" and "long-term" will forever feel tenuous.
That said, it's obviously going to be difficult for ASU to avoid regression in 2014. I'm not worried about the offense, but I envision a defense that makes quite a few plays but suffers far more breakdowns and glitches.
In today's Pac-12, if you're holding steady, you're losing ground. And ASU will be lucky to even hold steady this year. But the Sun Devils do have a rather home-friendly schedule. UCLA, Stanford, Utah, Notre Dame and Washington State -- all teams that might be predicted to beat ASU at their own home stadiums -- visit Tempe this fall. Granted, ASU still has to play at USC, Washington, Oregon State, and Arizona (good god, the Pac-12 is difficult), but the home slate and what should be an easy pair of season-opening non-conference games should assure that, at worst, ASU approaches its eight-win total from Graham's first year.
Take your licks with your young, high-upside guys, and get ready to make another run at a South title in 2015 (depending on the QB situation) or 2016.