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1. Managing change
On paper, they improved. That's amazing.
Technically, Arkansas State's win total dropped by one game as the Red Wolves took the field with their fifth head coach in five years. They suffered their share of frustrating losses, falling to five decent teams by an average of 18 points and dropping a tight home contest against Appalachian State. And they probably caught Utah State at just the right time, topping the Aggies by seven points in the direct aftermath of another USU quarterback injury. There's plenty of room for improvement, in other words.
But still, using the new F/+ ratings, Arkansas State improved from 76th in 2013 to 66th. Considering the value of continuity in college football, that is an absurd achievement. Now, as the Red Wolves prepare for their first two-year span with the same coach since 2009-10 (!), consistency could feed continuity.
In each annual coaching carousel, you read about a school valuing loyalty, perhaps considering a guy who will stay over one with a higher likelihood of short-run success. Considering Arkansas State the poster children for why "he'll stay" doesn't need to be on your list of requirements.
A perfect-world preference? Sure. But if your athletic director has a system, if the community and athletic department provide support, if you have a good eye for talent, and if you have all your ducks in a row, ASU proves that you can survive change. If you hire a good coach and he leaves after succeeding, you hire another good coach.
(That ASU pulled off this string of good hires despite undergoing an athletic director change in 2013 is even more incredible.)
So many aspects of a coaching search are random. There's a reason I find myself typing "coaching searches are enormous tossups, and you shouldn't dump a coach unless you absolutely have to" about 25 times over the course of this preview series. But ASU proves ambition and a good eye can give you better odds than others.
Blake Anderson's second season in charge brings high expectations, and we'll find out if he is of the caliber of the last three coaches, all of whom won at ASU, then went on to win elsewhere (Hugh Freeze to Ole Miss, Gus Malzahn to Auburn, and Bryan Harsin to Boise State). But at this point, with what the Red Wolves have survived, would you have any reason not to trust them to win games and play a role in the Sun Belt race? Especially with so many offensive starters back?
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 66|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|11-Oct||at Georgia State||122||52-10||W||87%||25.8||100%|
|20-Nov||at Texas State||95||27-45||L||15%||-23.9||3%|
|29-Nov||New Mexico State||124||68-35||W||69%||11.8||99%|
|Points Per Game||36.7||19||30.5||92|
2. Costly duds
The Red Wolves played at a top-80 level or so (approximately the 38th percentile) in nine-of-13 games, solid for a Sun Belt team. But a letdown against Miami represented a missed opportunity, and two specific conference losses were particularly discouraging.
- Average Percentile Performance in two conference duds (at UL-Lafayette, at Texas State): 15%
- Average Percentile Performance in six other conference games: 71%
The offense was fine against UL-Lafayette, posting 595 yards (7.8 per play) and 40 points. But the Red Wolves were slowed by a pretty bad Texas State defense (5.1 yards per play, albeit with 97 snaps), and in both of these games, the ASU defense got obliterated. UL-Lafayette's Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris combined for 46 carries, 372 yards, and eight rushing touchdowns, while TXST's Robert Lowe and C.J. Best combined for 35 carries, six catches, a combined 424 rushing and receiving yards, and five scores.
Big plays were a bugaboo for ASU all year, but in these two games, they were deadly.
One other interesting tidbit: only twice in 13 games did an ASU score finish within one possession. Six-of-seven wins were by at least 14 points, as were four of the five losses. Either it really worked, or it really didn't.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.8%||72||Succ. Rt. +||99.5||72|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.3||61||Def. FP+||98.0||92|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||39||Redzone S&P+||100.4||64|
|Q1 Rk||60||1st Down Rk||46|
|Q2 Rk||84||2nd Down Rk||22|
|Q3 Rk||48||3rd Down Rk||92|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Fredi Knighten||5'11, 189||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7800||269||432||3277||24||7||62.3%||29||6.3%||6.7|
|Stephen Hogan||6'4, 210||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000||3||6||18||0||0||50.0%||0||0.0%||3.0|
|D.J. Pearson||6'2, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8458|
|Taljhea Chambers||6'2, 215||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8137|
3. Fredi's become a passer
Knighten won the backup role last year, and one figures he has the best odds of winning the job this time around, but after two years as a backup, he's still a bit of an unknown entity. We know he can run; in two years, he's rushed 70 times for 559 yards (8.0 per carry) and five scores. But his arm is still a bit of a mystery. He completed more than two-thirds of his passes last year, mostly in spelling an injured Kennedy late in the year. But the passes were beyond conservative, averaging just 6.3 yards per completion.
Can he throw downfield? He looked great on the final drive of the GoDaddy Bowl, completing three passes for 50 yards and the game-winning score, but a) that's one drive, and b) he had thrown a pick in the end zone on the previous drive. He's going to have to throw downfield at least a little bit if he wins the job. Can he?
I'm not going to try to convince you that Fredi Knighten is an NFL-caliber passer, but the senior from Little Rock's Pulaski Academy was good enough through the air. ASU's offense improved to nearly a top-50 unit, with Knighten combining efficiency passes to slot receiver (and Ace Sanders Lite) J.D. McKissic with more aggressive passes to Tres Houston and breakout freshman Dijon Paschal.
He spread the ball around beautifully, with seven players getting targeted at least twice per game, and ASU was able to manipulate defenses enough with the pass to open up running lanes for Knighten, the explosive Michael Gordon, and at times, freshman Johnston White.
Knighten still has some more boxes to check on the Becoming a Dangerous Passer list: he got sacked too much (common for a guy used to relying on his legs) and, perhaps relatedly, fumbled too much. But he was a first-year starter. He should be able to put up impressive numbers again even if he doesn't develop much, if only because his supporting cast returns almost entirely intact.
|Fredi Knighten||QB||5'11, 189||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7800||182||969||11||5.3||6.5||40.7%||9||7|
|Michael Gordon||RB||5'9, 187||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8549||159||1100||13||6.9||8.8||42.1%||0||0|
|Johnston White||RB||5'11, 180||So.||NR||N/A||95||514||6||5.4||4.0||44.2%||0||0|
|Terrance Hollingsworth||RB||5'9, 195||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7785||39||101||1||2.6||2.2||23.1%||1||0|
|Brandon Byner||RB||5'11, 177||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||26||68||1||2.6||2.9||34.6%||1||1|
|DeKeathan Williams||RB||6'1, 212||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||N/A||11||50||1||4.5||4.7||36.4%||0||0|
|J.D. McKissic||WR-A||5'11, 193||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7000||9||115||1||12.8||10.5||66.7%||2||2|
|Warren Wand||RB||5'5, 174||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7959|
|Jamal Jones||RB||5'9, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8013|
|Earl Harrison||RB||5'10, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8064|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Tres Houston||WR||6'2, 188||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8111||81||53||680||65.4%||19.4%||60.5%||8.4||41||8.4||77.8|
|Dijon Paschal||WR||6'1, 196||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8315||61||38||665||62.3%||14.6%||54.1%||10.9||203||11.0||76.1|
|J.D. McKissic||SLOT||5'11, 193||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7000||61||52||629||85.2%||14.6%||63.9%||10.3||30||10.3||72.0|
|Darion Griswold||TE-Y||6'5, 264||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||N/A||36||18||221||50.0%||8.6%||50.0%||6.1||-8||6.7||25.3|
|Booker Mays||WR||5'10, 170||Jr.||NR||N/A||35||20||325||57.1%||8.4%||48.6%||9.3||78||9.4||37.2|
|Michael Gordon||RB||5'9, 187||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8549||32||25||191||78.1%||7.7%||50.0%||6.0||-101||5.9||21.9|
|Tyler Trosin||SLOT||5'11, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8373||21||13||135||61.9%||5.0%||28.6%||6.4||-23||6.0||15.4|
|Blake Mack||WR||6'3, 200||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7959||13||8||155||61.5%||3.1%||46.2%||11.9||57||12.8||17.7|
|Johnston White||RB||5'11, 180||Jr.||NR||N/A||13||6||27||46.2%||3.1%||38.5%||2.1||-51||1.9||3.1|
|Daryl Rollins-Davis||RB||5'9, 175||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7783||5||4||43||80.0%||1.2%||60.0%||8.6||-4||8.6||4.9|
|Carl Lee Jr.||WR||6'2, 202||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7983||5||4||11||80.0%||1.2%||60.0%||2.2||-36||2.3||1.3|
|Warren Leapheart||TE-H||6'5, 242||Jr.||NR||0.7700||3||2||4||66.7%||0.7%||100.0%||1.3||-20||N/A||0.5|
|DeKeathan Williams||RB||6'1, 212||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||N/A||2||1||3||50.0%||0.5%||50.0%||1.5||-10||1.3||0.3|
|Darveon Brown||WR||5'11, 176||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8253|
|Omar Bayless||WR||6'3, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8133|
|Jaylon Marshall||WR||6'2, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7963|
4. So many weapons, so little attrition
Those responsible for 98 percent of ASU's rushes and 91 percent of ASU's targets are scheduled to return. ASU has weapons big (Darion Griswold, Blake Mack, DeKeathan Williams) and small (Michael Gordon, J.D. McKissic, Terrance Hollingsworth), old (Gordon, McKissic, Griswold, Tres Houston) and young (Dijon Paschal, Johnston White, Hollingsworth, Brandon Byner, Mack). And I haven't even mentioned former walk-on and fainting goat extraordinaire Booker Mays yet.
Plus, Anderson signed two quarterbacks, three running backs, and two receivers who were given a three-star designation by either Rivals or the 247Sports Composite (or both).
ASU might have the best offensive depth in the Sun Belt, and the talent is spread out beautifully by class. McKissic and Gordon might be tough to replace after 2015 -- Gordon because of his explosiveness, McKissic because of his absurd efficiency -- but the candidates are lining up.
And once again, here's where I remind you that ASU had four coaches in four years. That kind of turnover is supposed to lead to transfers. It has not.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Colton Jackson||RT||6'4, 276||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826||26|
|Jemar Clark||LT||6'6, 304||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8494||12|
|Devin Mondie||LG||6'5, 291||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7749||12|
|Kyle Harris||LT||6'4, 280||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8600||1|
|Austin Moreton||LG||6'1, 318||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||1|
|Steven Stevens||LG||6'4, 296||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000||0|
|Travis Bodenstein||RG||6'4, 308||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8353||0|
|Christian Beard||OL||6'4, 270||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8044|
|Brandon Berg||OL||6'2, 275||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7585|
|Joseph Baccus||OL||6'5, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7852|
|Cameron Davis||OL||6'4, 280||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8281|
|Dalton Ford||OL||6'4, 295||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8081|
5. A couple of departures up front
The line could have been better. While the mediocre sack rate had a bit to do with Knighten holding onto the ball too long, the offense didn't produce particularly impressive line stats. The Red Wolves were able to create open-field opportunities, but there were lots of stuffs in the backfield, and the Red Wolves had some of the worst short-yardage percentages in the country.
Three starters (all of whom were either freshmen or sophomores) return, as do two more players with one game of starting experience each. Assuming Colton Jackson, Jemar Clark and Devin Mondie put in typical year-to-year development, there's enough experience to assume ASU's line will be able to replicate last year's numbers. And if at least one of two JUCO signees (Brandon Berg and Joseph Baccus) is able to play at a starter level, maybe the numbers improve.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.1%||79||Succ. Rt. +||97.8||78|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||32.3||25||Off. FP+||102.0||38|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.5||77||Redzone S&P+||90.8||102|
|Q1 Rk||70||1st Down Rk||64|
|Q2 Rk||81||2nd Down Rk||82|
|Q3 Rk||82||3rd Down Rk||103|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Chris Stone||BANDIT||6'3, 252||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||N/A||13||36.5||4.9%||9.5||7.0||0||3||0||0|
|Ja'Von Rolland-Jones||DE||6'2, 224||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7400||10||26.5||3.5%||12.0||7.5||0||1||2||0|
|Chuks Ota||NG||6'2, 285||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8133||13||19.0||2.5%||3.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Chris Odom||NG||6'3, 234||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7783||13||13.0||1.7%||2.0||1.0||0||2||0||0|
|Darrius Rosser||DT||6'3, 284||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||12||12.0||1.6%||5.0||0.5||0||0||1||0|
|Clifford Thomas||NG||6'2, 280||So.||NR||N/A||10||10.5||1.4%||1.5||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Carderious Dean||DE||6'3, 235||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7333||11||8.5||1.1%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Caleb Caston||DE||6'2, 210||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7533||11||8.5||1.1%||2.5||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Robert Mondie (UAB)||NG||6'2, 300||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7519||11||7.0||1.1%||0.0||0.0||0||3||0||0|
|Jabari Mathieu||BANDIT||6'2, 237||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7333||10||4.5||0.6%||2.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|E.J. Sutton||DT||6'3, 275||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7659||8||2.5||0.3%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Waylon Roberson||NG||6'2, 340||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7867|
|Jake Swalley||NG||6'2, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7919|
|Griffin Riggs||DE||6'3, 235||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8302|
|Donovan Ransom||DE||6'1, 270||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826|
|T.J. Harris||DE||6'2, 225||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7793|
|Javier Carbonell||NG||6'2, 285||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8000|
6. If a runner got to the second level against ASU...
...he didn't tend to find much resistance.
It was kind of a theme, one that went beyond the dreadful UL-Lafayette and Texas State games. Miami's Duke Johnson and Gus Edwards combined for 128 yards on just 16 carries. Appalachian State's Marcus Cox carried 40 times for 229 yards and caught a 44-yard pass. NMSU's Larry Rose III ripped off an 80-yard run and finished with 21 carries and 137 yards (in a game that also featured a 75-yard pass to Greg Hogan). And Toledo's Kareem Hunt and Damion Jones-Moore did nasty things, combining for 47 carries, 374 yards, and seven touchdowns.
It's easy to assume ASU had an awful run defense, and you wouldn't be totally wrong, but the Red Wolves had their moments. The efficiency numbers weren't terrible, and in games against Tennessee and others, they were able to prevent second-level opportunities. But the run defense was like an old truck I used to have: after a while, second gear disappeared and it would jerk straight from first to third.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Xavier Woodson||WILL||6'1, 214||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8094||13||82.0||10.9%||9.0||4.0||0||3||1||0|
|Austin Copeland||WILL||6'1, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||N/A||12||21.5||2.9%||2.0||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Quanterio Heath||MIKE||6'2, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8138||7||11.0||1.5%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Mark Johnson||LB||6'2, 180||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7544||6||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
7. SIC 'EM
ASU was willing to risk big plays in the name of making them. And while that proposition wasn't successful enough to make for an overall strong defense, the Red Wolves made plays.
They ranked 55th in Stuff Rate (run stops behind the line) and sixth in passing downs sack rate. Five players had at least four non-sack tackles for loss, and five had at least two sacks.
Most of those play-makers return. Hell, most of everybody returns. UAB transfer Robert Mondie joins a crowded line that returns 11 of its top 12 tacklers. The linebacking corps returns four of six, though stalwart middle linebacker Qushaun Lee could be missed. Chris Stone and Ja'Von Rolland-Jones might be the Sun Belt's best pass-rushing tandem, Chuks Ota is a potential star at nose guard, and Xavier Woodson is an excellent blitzer.
If experience and depth can lead to a reduction of glitches, and ASU can get its Success Rate+ ranking into the 40s or 50s as opposed to the 70s, the Red Wolves will be better equipped to survive big plays.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Money Hunter||SS||6'1, 193||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7778||13||59.5||7.9%||1||1||2||2||1||0|
|Sterling Wright||NB||6'2, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||11||21.0||2.8%||2||0||0||1||0||0|
|Rocky Hayes||CB||5'11, 177||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7900||12||21.0||2.8%||2||1||1||5||0||1|
|Charleston Girley||SS||6'0, 196||Sr.||NR||N/A||5||16.5||2.2%||3||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Blaise Taylor||CB||5'9, 170||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8251||13||7.5||1.0%||1.5||0||0||0||1||0|
|Chris Humes||DB||5'11, 207||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8510||2||7.5||1.0%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Charles Grant||DB||5'11, 180||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8026||8||6.0||0.8%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Khari Lain||DB||5'10, 185||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8015||12||5.0||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jamaris Hart||CB||5'9, 163||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7956||11||4.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Nehemiah Wagner||DB||6'0, 170||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8220||7||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Cody Brown||DB||6'2, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8100|
|Allan Sentimore||DB||6'0, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7956|
|Avery Johnson||DB||6'2, 210||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8023|
8. Some actual turnover (and optimism) in the back
Anderson's first recruiting class featured a pretty impressive haul of defensive backs, and quite a few of them got reserve playing time, presumably as preparation to take over.
ASU must replace both starting cornerbacks and two of three starting safeties in coordinator Joe Cauthen's 4-2-5. Granted, the secondary was probably responsible for quite a few enormous plays, but corners Andrew Tryon and Artez Brown were successfully aggressive, combining for six tackles for loss, six picks, and 14 break-ups. Replacing them doesn't guarantee improvement on the big-play front, but it could mean for a reduction in defense's own havoc plays.
Of course, there's still experience, so the reins might not have to completely go to the sophomores just yet. Charleston Girley began as a starter and made havoc plays before breaking his wrist, and 2013 starter Chris Humes tore his bicep against Tennessee. It probably isn't a coincidence that a lot of ASU's biggest breakdowns came after these two were lost for the year. If they're able to return to full strength and a sophomore like exciting corner Blaise Taylor is able to break through, then this secondary could perform as well as last year's.
|Luke Ferguson||6'0, 210||Sr.||56||41.4||4||23||22||80.4%|
|Stephen Hogan||6'4, 210||Sr.||11||45.5||2||2||3||45.5%|
|Luke Ferguson||6'0, 210||Sr.||79||59.2||34||2||43.0%|
|Luke Ferguson||6'0, 210||Sr.||36-42||5-8||62.5%||3-7||42.9%|
|Logan Spry||5'11, 220||Sr.||16-18||3-3||100.0%||0-0||N/A|
|Daryl Rollins-Davis||KR||5'9, 175||So.||18||23.6||0|
|Blaise Taylor||KR||5'9, 170||So.||12||24.5||0|
|Blaise Taylor||PR||5'9, 170||So.||29||8.1||1|
|J.D. McKissic||PR||5'11, 193||Sr.||3||-1.7||0|
|Special Teams F/+||73|
|Field Goal Efficiency||122|
|Punt Return Efficiency||69|
|Kick Return Efficiency||29|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||4|
9. Find a kicker
ASU's special teams produced good punts and kick returns and decent kickoffs and punt returns. All the primary reasons for that return, including hang-time punter Luke Ferguson and return man Blaise Taylor. They were key cogs in a lovely outfit.
But the place-kicking could have been costly. ASU was good at finishing drives in the end zone but still attempted 18 field goals, and of the 15 Ferguson tried, he only made eight. And he missed SIX PATs as well. Logan Spry took over place-kicking duties and made all three of his field goals, but none was over 40 yards, and he managed to miss two PATs as well.
ASU only played in two particularly close games, so this didn't make the difference it could have. But it could if either Ferguson, Spry, or some other option doesn't figure out how to turn kicks into points.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|?||at Appalachian State||104|
|?||at New Mexico State||124|
|?||at South Alabama||89|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-2.2% (65)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||88 / 86|
|2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||6 / 2.6|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+1.3|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||14 (9, 5)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||7.3 (-0.3)|
10. Beat the Cajuns
The Sun Belt hasn't put out its official schedules yet -- we know the pairings, but not the dates. So hey, maybe it's not too late to make some changes to the slate? Like, change the fact that neither Arkansas State nor UL-Lafayette plays Georgia Southern? These might be the three best teams in the Sun Belt (though Appalachian State might have something to say about that), and the round-robin among them consists of one game. That's a shame.
No matter who's on the schedule, theRed Wolves boast more experience and depth than they should, and the offense both improved in 2014 and returns almost every weapon. They boast one of the league's best running backs (non-Elijah McGuire division) and receiving corps, and their defensive front six is active.
Plus, the two weak units -- offensive line and secondary -- might not be any weaker. And in the case of the secondary, you could make a case that it will be better.
So if almost every unit improves from a team that played at a 70th-percentile level for three-quarters of conference play ... well ... that sounds like a conference contender to me. Hell, it almost sounds like a conference favorite, especially if ASU can take down UL-Lafayette at home.