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1. Timing is everything -- except when it's not
In 24 years on the job, head coach Jerry Moore took a healthy program and made it a dominant one. While some low-rung FBS teams struggle to draw 10,000 for a conference game, Appalachian State drew 30,856 for a game against Montana. Hell, ASU drew 26,415 for a game against a terrible N.C. A&T squad. In 2012, the Mountaineers averaged higher attendance (27,964) than any current Sun Belt program despite playing at the FCS level. [...]
A few years ago, near the height of its power, the school weighed a jump to FBS. Last March, it got its ducks in a row. The transition begins in 2014.
Meanwhile, the slide began three years ago. In 2011-12, Moore managed matching 8-4 records and FCS playoff appearances, but ASU lost in the first round both years. And following 2012, Moore was more or less informed that he was retiring. In stepped Scott Satterfield; his first squad went 4-8, losing more than it won for the first time since 1993.
Safe to say, the jump was mistimed.
In last year's Appalachian State preview, I talked about how difficult it is to time the jump to FBS. The decision is often made following a run of success, but there's a two- or three-year delay between the decision and the jump. And in that time, between new recruiting cycles and potential new coaching hires, you often begin to slide before you even reach the next level. Just ask UMass or Western Kentucky, which went from FCS heavyweights to welterweights just in time to become FBS bantamweights, for a while at least.
It appeared Appalachian State had gotten the timing wrong as well. The Mountaineers were the heaviest of FCS heavyweights and waited until the moment the Moore era faded to decide. They had their worst FCS season in ages in 2013, then moved looked horrific for half of 2014. They gave up 52 points to Michigan. They lost to Southern Miss. They lost their first two Sun Belt games (to first- and second-year FBS teams) by a combined 81-35. They gave up 55 points and lost to Liberty.
The Mountaineers began 1-5, grading out as one of the worst teams in FBS. They had gotten everything wrong.
And then it all went right.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-5 | Adj. Record: 4-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 104|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|20-Sep||at Southern Miss||110||20-21||L||7%||-33.7||39%|
|25-Sep||at Georgia Southern||57||14-34||L||7%||-34.7||0%|
|15-Nov||at Arkansas State||66||37-32||W||27%||-14.1||44%|
|Points Per Game||35.7||26||27.3||72|
2. The proverbial light switch
I spent a greater than normal amount of time reading local newspapers and ASU fan sites to try to figure out how the second half of last season happened. Young teams can often improve in-season, and sometimes a nice win or two can serve as a catalyst. But between October 11 and October 18, Appalachian drastically changed from one of the three worst teams in FBS to a top-70-caliber squad.
- Average Percentile Performance, first 6 games (record: 1-5): 17% (5%, sans the Campbell game)
- Average Percentile Performance, next 6 games (record: 6-0): 52%
A week after losing to Liberty, ASU whomped Troy on the road. The Mountaineers did the same to Georgia State at home in the snow. And after tossup wins over ULM and Arkansas State (in Jonesboro!), ASU went to Lafayette and trounced a Ragin' Cajun team that was in its fourth consecutive nine-win season. A cruise-control win over Idaho assured ASU of what seemed like an impossible winning record.
That a young offense got better isn't surprising. But the mid-season turnaround -- which feels like an understated word to use -- was spurred by the defense.
- Appalachian State defense, first 6 games: 427 yards per game, 6.6 yards per play, 34.8 points per game (sans Campbell: 494 yards per game, 7.3 yards per play, 41.8 points per game)
- Appalachian State defense, next 6 games: 268 yards per game, 4.1 yards per play, 19.8 points per game
So what did the local papers and fan sites have to say about the 180-degree turn? Basically, it just -- happened. Instead of almost getting pressure on quarterbacks, ASU got pressure on quarterbacks. Instead of misplaced aggression, there was well-placed aggression. Instead of almost making a big play but allowing one instead, the opposite happened. Green freshmen and sophomores became veterans. ASU got a step faster.
This is how it always works in your head. The switch gets flipped, and a young unit becomes a seasoned unit that realizes its potential. But it rarely happens like this.
The second half drastically changed the outlook of ASU's program. Instead of fighting through a two- or three-win season with a young team and hoping to build traction for 2016, the Mountaineers enter 2015 with 20 returning starters (10 on both sides of the ball) and a second string almost fully intact from a team that looked like one of the two best in the Sun Belt in late-October and November. Instead of hoping to get to .500 within a couple of years, ASU is plotting a conference title run.
And it's hard for me to tamp down that optimism much. While the stats say ASU was the No. 104 team in the country for the season, the turnaround was both drastic and sustained, and almost every reason for that turnaround returns this fall.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.0%||46||Succ. Rt. +||95.2||87|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||33.2||121||Def. FP+||93.1||123|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.6||47||Redzone S&P+||99.6||66|
|Q1 Rk||97||1st Down Rk||71|
|Q2 Rk||80||2nd Down Rk||69|
|Q3 Rk||58||3rd Down Rk||86|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Taylor Lamb||6'2, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7833||181||295||2381||17||9||61.4%||8||2.6%||7.7|
|J.P. Caruso||6'1, 200||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8016|
|Daniel David||6'1, 192||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8366|
3. Taking the job and running with it
Appalachian State had a good idea of what it wanted to be offensively. Co-coordinators Dwayne Ledford and Frank Ponce crafted a run-first scheme that kept pressure off of freshman Taylor Lamb, and the Mountaineers were just good enough on the ground to open up solid passing opportunities downfield.
With running backs Marcus Cox and Terrence Upshaw combining for 31 carries per game and five yards per carry, Lamb was able to ease into the first-string job after overtaking 2013 starter Kameron Bryant. Lamb started slowly, completing 60 percent of his passes in his first four games against FBS competition, but averaging 9.8 yards per completion with four touchdowns and four interceptions.
But as the run game found traction, and as the defense began putting the offense in more favorable field position and scoreboard situations, Lamb found himself capable of taking advantage. In the last four games, he completed 64 percent, averaged 15.1 yards per completion, and threw eight touchdowns to three picks. Opponents began to adapt to the heavy dose of Marcus Cox -- after averaging 7.8 yards per carry against Liberty, Troy and Georgia State, he averaged 4.9 per carry in the final four games -- but Lamb was able to make them pay for their distraction.
|Marcus Cox||RB||5'10, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7783||256||1415||19||5.5||5.4||41.0%||8||6|
|Terrence Upshaw||RB||5'10, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8152||112||573||4||5.1||5.7||36.6%||1||1|
|Taylor Lamb||QB||6'2, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7833||70||518||4||7.4||6.4||51.4%||1||0|
|Ricky Fergerson||RB||5'8, 185||Sr.||NR||N/A||38||292||3||7.7||10.0||44.7%||0||0|
|Eric Davidson||RB||5'10, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||N/A||20||78||0||3.9||1.4||35.0%||0||0|
|Simms McElfresh||WR||5'10, 180||Sr.||NR||N/A||6||25||2||4.2||2.5||50.0%||0||0|
|Josh Boyd||RB||5'10, 180||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8194|
4. And running and running
That Lamb, Cox, and Upshaw all return, not to mention four starters from the line, tells you ASU's identity isn't going to change much. Cox had a bit of a fumble problem, but the recipe worked. The opponent-adjusted stats above show you that ASU's run game really wasn't that amazing (94th in Rushing S&P+), but it was successful enough to set Lamb up to succeed (51st in Passing S&P+).
Perhaps Lamb is ready for a heavier burden, but with the depth in the running game -- not to mention the fact that weather can be a dicey in Boone, N.C. -- I wouldn't expect much to change. If it does, it's because the receiving corps is too exciting not to feed.
Possession man Simms McElfresh was Lamb's primary target, catching 24 passes (for just 238 yards) in the first four games. But as the season wore on, players like Malachi Jones (12 catches for 201 yards in the last four games), Montez McGuire (nine catches for 166 yards against ULM, ASU and UL) and star freshman Shaedon Meadors (nine for 181 in the last four) emerged as serious threats. And by the end of the year, defenses had to account for up to five scary targets while still focusing on the bludgeoning Cox and Upshaw. The numbers shifted in ASU's favor, and ASU put up bigger numbers.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Malachi Jones||WR-X||6'2, 210||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||N/A||65||36||585||55.4%||20.2%||60.0%||9.0||137||8.9||76.9|
|Simms McElfresh||WR-M||5'10, 180||Sr.||NR||N/A||63||42||484||66.7%||19.6%||54.0%||7.7||-20||7.7||63.6|
|Montez McGuire||WR-Z||6'1, 215||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7806||39||25||386||64.1%||12.1%||41.0%||9.9||84||10.2||50.8|
|Bobo Beathard||WR-Z||5'10, 185||Sr.||NR||N/A||33||17||202||51.5%||10.3%||60.6%||6.1||-13||6.1||26.6|
|Marcus Cox||RB||5'10, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7783||24||16||180||66.7%||7.5%||37.5%||7.5||-12||7.3||23.7|
|Shaedon Meadors||WR-X||6'2, 180||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8339||21||15||287||71.4%||6.5%||66.7%||13.7||109||12.6||37.7|
|Isaiah Lewis||WR-X||5'10, 175||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7894||19||13||92||68.4%||5.9%||63.2%||4.8||-63||4.7||12.1|
|Barrett Burns||TE||6'4, 235||Jr.||NR||N/A||17||14||129||82.4%||5.3%||52.9%||7.6||-33||7.9||17.0|
|Terrence Upshaw||RB||5'10, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8152||9||8||63||88.9%||2.8%||44.4%||7.0||-29||6.9||8.3|
|Jaylan Barbour||WR||5'10, 165||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8500||4||2||40||50.0%||1.2%||75.0%||10.0||15||9.1||5.3|
|Dante Jones||WR-M||5'11, 180||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7646||4||2||25||50.0%||1.2%||50.0%||6.3||0||6.1||3.3|
|Michael Moll||TE||6'1, 225||Jr.||NR||N/A||1||1||20||100.0%||0.3%||0.0%||20.0||9||N/A||2.6|
|Nikia Cathey||WR||5'9, 177||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8338|
|Zireycus Letman||WR||6'3, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8167|
|Mock Adams||WR||6'4, 187||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8156|
|Collin Reed||TE||6'3, 230||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7719|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Kendall Lamm||LT||42||2014 1st All-Sun Belt|
|Shaq Counts||LG||6'2, 275||Sr.||NR||N/A||24|
|Davante Harris||RT||6'6, 275||Sr.||NR||N/A||16|
|Jesse Chapman||C||6'1, 275||Sr.||NR||N/A||12|
|Parker Collins||LG||6'3, 295||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||10|
|Beau Nunn||RT||6'4, 290||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||10|
|Colby Gossett||RG||6'6, 315||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000||7|
|Jamie Collmar||RG||6'2, 295||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7805||0|
|Alex Taylor||OL||6'9, 294||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7959|
|Victor Johnson||OL||6'5, 260||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7938|
|Bo Alexander||OL||6'5, 285||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7633|
5. Losing four starters and returning four starters
Because of drastic injuries in 2012-13, ASU returned six starters on the line last season. In all, eight returnees had combined for a ridiculous 143 career starts before the season even began. And thanks to a couple of exciting youngsters overtaking veterans on the two-deep, ASU finished 2014 with 10 players having started at least seven games.
ASU finds itself in an odd position. Four players who combined for 124 career starts have left, but the Mountaineers can still claim four returning starters. And when you see that ASU's line stats were, on average, better than any of the other offensive stats, we'll say the line will remain a strength.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.0%||38||Succ. Rt. +||96.5||82|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.7||51||Off. FP+||98.7||87|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||103||Redzone S&P+||85.0||121|
|Q1 Rk||94||1st Down Rk||81|
|Q2 Rk||118||2nd Down Rk||98|
|Q3 Rk||91||3rd Down Rk||114|
6. It just -- happened
Full-season averages don't tell us much about this defense. For the season, coordinator Nate Woody's D was an aggressive unit, aiming to limit efficiency and risking big plays to do so.
The ratio of good to bad shifted midway through. The average tackles for loss per game did not change -- 38 in the first six games, 38 in the last six -- but ASU seemed to sacrifice aggressiveness against the run to protect against the pass. Their sack rate nearly tripled, from 3.7 percent over the first half to 9.9 percent.
End Ronald Blair emerged as a pretty scary weapon (one sack in the first four games, two in the next four, three in the final four), but ASU's strength was in attacking from any direction. Blair was the only player with more than 3.5 sacks, but five had at least two, and nine had at least 0.5.
The unit matured. Woody found himself with effective options to use.
7. All the experience in the world
Basically, all of those options return. Backup end Deuce Robinson is gone, as are early-season contributor Brandon McGowan and starting corner Joel Ross. That's it. Of the 22 players on the season-ending two-deep, 20 are back.
That's not the entire story. ASU was so young that it's still pretty young; only two of the six returning regulars on the line are seniors, the top five returnees at linebacker are sophomores or juniors, and of the six returning DBs with at least 10 tackles, only one is a senior. So ASU is probably going to return about nine defensive starters in 2016, too.
And while Satterfield has signed quite a few high-two- and low-three-star recruits over the last couple of years, he has the luxury of easing them into action. That is, unless some of them force their way, like linebackers Eric Boggs and Devan Stringer and defensive backs A.J. Howard and Latrell Gibbs did last year.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ronald Blair||DE||6'4, 275||Sr.||NR||N/A||12||34.0||5.4%||13.0||6.0||0||1||0||0|
|Nathaniel Norwood||DE||6'2, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||12||22.0||3.5%||5.5||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Olawale Dada||DE||6'0, 235||Jr.||NR||N/A||8||14.5||2.3%||5.5||1.0||0||1||1||1|
|Tyson Fernandez||DT||6'2, 330||Jr.||NR||N/A||10||10.0||1.6%||1.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Stephen Burns||DT||6'2, 260||Sr.||NR||N/A||12||10.0||1.6%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Darian Small||DT||6'2, 325||Jr.||NR||N/A||12||7.0||1.1%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Thomas Bronson||DL||6'3, 245||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||N/A||4||3.5||0.6%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Alanmicheal Harkness||DE||6'3, 235||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7979|
|Myquon Stout||DT||6'1, 260||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7659|
|Antonius Sims||DE||6'3, 250||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|John Law||ILB||6'0, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8245||12||68.5||10.8%||6.0||2.0||1||4||0||1|
|Kennan Gilchrist||OLB||6'2, 210||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7733||12||33.5||5.3%||6.5||3.5||0||0||1||0|
|Eric Boggs||ILB||6'3, 235||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7383||12||30.5||4.8%||2.5||1.0||0||1||1||0|
|Devan Stringer||OLB||5'11, 195||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7705||10||27.5||4.3%||6.0||2.0||0||3||0||0|
|Rashaad Townes||OLB||6'2, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||N/A||9||22.0||3.5%||4.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|D.J. Ward||ILB||5'11, 235||Sr.||NR||N/A||12||19.5||3.1%||1.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Osvaldo Sombo||OLB||6'2, 235||Sr.||NR||N/A||12||16.0||2.5%||1.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Toronto Thomas||ILB||6'0, 235||Jr.||NR||N/A||8||3.5||0.6%||0.5||0.0||0||1||1||0|
|Kevin Walton||OLB||6'0, 185||Sr.||NR||N/A||12||3.0||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Dustin Anderson||OLB||5'10, 175||Jr.||NR||N/A||6||3.0||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|George Vinson||ILB||6'0, 220||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7729||8||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Bill Cecil||ILB||6'0, 205||So.||NR||N/A||12||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Caleb Fuller||ILB||6'0, 225||So.||NR||N/A||2||1.5||0.2%||1.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Okon Godwin||OLB||6'2, 230||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8059|
|Dezmin Reed||OLB||6'2, 230||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7893|
|Akeem Davis||OLB||6'2, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7954|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Doug Middleton||FS||6'0, 205||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7200||12||64.0||10.1%||6||0.5||4||6||0||0|
|A.J. Howard||SS||5'11, 185||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7844||12||51.5||8.1%||2.5||0||0||2||1||0|
|Latrell Gibbs||CB||5'10, 170||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000||12||31.5||5.0%||0||0||2||4||0||0|
|Alex Gray||FS||6'3, 210||Jr.||NR||N/A||12||19.0||3.0%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Dante Blackmon||CB||5'11, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7800||12||10.5||1.7%||0.5||0||1||0||0||0|
|Treyon Garnett||FS||6'1, 195||So.||NR||N/A||9||10.0||1.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Aaron Krah||CB||5'11, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||N/A||12||7.0||1.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Ford||CB||6'2, 190||Jr.||NR||N/A||3||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Pinckney||DB||6'0, 185||So.||2 stars (5.2)||N/A||10||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Mondo Williams||CB||5'11, 175||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7719|
|Desmond Franklin||DB||6'2, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8056|
|Josh Thomas||S||6'0, 205||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7967|
8. Pass rush was key
ASU mostly has the size necessary to play within a 3-4 structure and not get shoved around; Ronald Blair is listed at 275 pounds, and two of the top three returning tacklers are 325 pounds or bigger. Returning inside linebackers are to a man listed at 235 pounds, and while the OLBs are a bit on the light side -- more like nickelbacks -- this gives the Mountaineers a base for defending the run and speed to get to the passer.
But they better get to the passer. Because when they didn't, bad things tended to happen. ASU's secondary was capable of taking advantage of errant throws from pressured QBs -- exciting safety Doug Middleton had six tackles for loss and 10 passes defensed -- but the Mountaineers gave up a ton of big plays. Aggressiveness often backfired.
Maturity should help; Howard and Gibbs are no longer freshmen, and there's at least one senior leader in Middleton. But if ASU is less effective at getting to the quarterback, the secondary might not be good enough to make up the difference.
|Bentlee Critcher||6'1, 190||Jr.||41||40.7||2||9||12||51.2%|
|Bentlee Critcher||6'1, 190||Jr.||44||55.7||19||1||43.2%|
|Zach Matics||6'2, 195||Sr.||33||58.8||8||2||24.2%|
|Bentlee Critcher||6'1, 190||Jr.||34-38||6-8||75.0%||1-2||50.0%|
|Zach Matics||6'2, 195||Sr.||18-19||1-3||33.3%||0-2||0.0%|
|Isaiah Lewis||KR||5'10, 175||So.||15||20.3||0|
|Bobo Beathard||KR||5'10, 185||Sr.||11||21.6||0|
|Bobo Beathard||PR||5'10, 185||Sr.||9||7.2||1|
|Isaiah Lewis||PR||5'10, 175||So.||2||0.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||128|
|Field Goal Efficiency||126|
|Punt Return Efficiency||91|
|Kick Return Efficiency||82|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||35|
9. Worst. Special teams. Ever.
ASU was lucky in terms of injuries; five of the top seven linemen, five of the top eight linebackers and each of the top six defensive backs played in all 12 games. If you've been reading this week's other Sun Belt previews, you've seen that teams like Idaho and Georgia State weren't nearly that steady.
If you're looking for a red flag, realize that injury luck evens out over time, and that if special teams coverage units were any indication (because backup DBs, LBs, and WRs tend to fill coverage units), the underbelly of the ASU defense was incredibly shaky.
Punter Bentlee Critcher averaged 40.7 yards per punt and had a few downed inside the 20, but ASU was still last in the country in Brian Fremeau's punt efficiency rating. Opponents averaged a ridiculous 13.7 yards per punt return with two touchdowns. Kickoff coverage was almost as bad, Critcher missed four PATs, and fellow place-kicker Zach Matics could only make PATs. The return game was something approaching mediocre but wasn't good enough to be considered a strength.
ASU had what was by far the worst special teams unit in the country last year. Critcher, Matics, and all the return men are back, but a) that isn't necessarily a good thing, and b) coverage absolutely must improve if ASU is to entertain conference title ambitions.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|26-Sep||at Old Dominion||108|
|?||at Georgia State||122|
|?||at South Alabama||89|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-28.0% (110)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||97 / 117|
|2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / 0.8|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-1.2|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||20 (10, 10)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||7.1 (-0.1)|
10. Every game but Clemson is winnable
Injuries luck could backfire, and while the second half of the season tends to be a little more predictive than the first, ASU's full-season numbers still matter. And that special teams unit was just so bad.
Still, it's hard to ignore how good ASU was over the final six games; this wasn't some "they looked good for two weeks" situation. The ASU that we saw in November is the one we'll probably see for a decent portion of 2015, and barring an impressive run of injuries, the Mountaineers will have a perfect schedule for making a Sun Belt run.
The three best SBC teams on the schedule (according to last year's ratings) all visit Kidd Brewer Stadium, and three of the four road opponents ranked 97th or worse, as did three of four non-conference opponents. If ASU is able to establish a top-80 level of play -- better than last year's but a step down from the level of the last six games -- the Mountaineers should threaten to win 10 games.
It's amazing to type this. A year ago, I thought ASU was a couple of years from respectability, even within the Sun Belt, and the results of the six games more than reinforced that line of thinking. Now ASU is one of the safer ones in the Sun Belt.