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1. Not bad for a rebuilding year
Todd Graham has recruited pretty well, and he has exciting players at every level of the defense. Plus, when he chooses to stay in one place, he is a hell of a coach, a Dennis Erickson 2.0 of sorts, molding confident squads. But it's impossible to assume anything but a defensive dropoff in 2014.
This is a "measure the fall" season. The Sun Devils almost certainly won't finish 13th overall again, but if they only fall to about 20th, they are in for some spectacular success over the coming years. After what he did in 2013, Graham has earned a mulligan; we'll see if he has to use it this fall.
In 2014, Arizona State won 10 games for the second straight year and came within seven points (on the road in Tucson) of winning the Pac-12 South. I'd say Graham can keep that mulligan for later use.
Last season marked a pivot point between Graham using the talent he inherited from Erickson and the talent he was bringing in himself. The former West Virginia and Tulsa defensive coordinator was tasked with replacing his top three linemen, four of his top five linebackers, and five of his top seven defensive backs from an experienced D that ranked 15th in Def. S&P+ in 2013. The offense had skill position talent to replace and lost its quarterback to injury.
That was a lot of turnover to handle, but the Sun Devils were fortunate. For one, this defense, thin on experience, dealt with few in-season injuries: the top four tacklers on the line, top five at linebacker, and five of six at defensive back played in all 13 games. Inexperienced as it was, once the lineup was set, it was set.
Turnovers luck helped, too. ASU recovered 65 percent of all fumbles (which resulted in a swing of about six turnovers), and while opponents broke up a good number of ASU passes, they dropped a few INTs along the way.
The result was about 4.7 points' worth of turnovers luck per game, third most in the country (behind TCU and FIU). That, along with the easiest Hail Mary completion of all time against USC, resulted in a 3-2 record in one-possession games and a 10-win season despite only a No. 27 F/+ ranking.
But even if the win total had been lower, the point of the season was to survive a reset. While the offense regressed (from 13th to 27th in Off. S&P+) and the defense dropped (from 15th to 47th in Def. S&P+), ASU returned eight total starters, played at a top-30 level, and won 10 games.
And now the experience level doubles. ASU returns 16 starters, including most of its skill position players, an all-conference offensive lineman, four of the top five on the line, the top six linebackers, all but one defensive back, and the fruits of another exciting recruiting class.
Barring injuries, unexpected setbacks, or a drastic turn in turnovers luck, this is going to be a top-20 team in 2015. Lucky or not, Graham and his Sun Devils proved a ton last year.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 27|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|6-Sep||at New Mexico||94||58-23||W||93%||33.7||100%|
|15-Nov||at Oregon State||74||27-35||L||23%||-17.5||12%|
|Points Per Game||36.9||17||27.9||76|
2. "They didn't win. We lost."
Every fan base has this funny quirk. Fans want to know their team controlled the result, even if it was a bad one. You didn't play well; we just played poorly. You didn't win; we lost. There's comfort in believing you control your own destiny.
But this faulty mantra was more true for ASU than for most. Teams generally play better in wins than losses, but when the Sun Devils showed up, they almost always won.
- Average Percentile Performance (wins): 83% (~top 20 | average score: ASU 39, Opp 22)
- Average Percentile Performance (losses): 21% (~top 100 | average score: Opp 46, ASU 30)
This is a dramatic split. In 10 wins, ASU consistently played like a top-20 team, one of the best in a strong conference. And in three losses, the Sun Devils were awful. In yards per play, the ASU offense was nearly at its worst against Arizona (4.4) and Oregon State (4.9), while the defense was at its worst against UCLA (10.0!) and Oregon State (7.1).
UCLA was clicking at too high a level for the Sun Devils to stay close, no matter how well ASU played, but a more ASU-like performance in the other two losses probably would have swung the division in the Sun Devils' favor.
This is a symptom of inexperience. Even with quite a few JUCOs and other upperclassmen, Arizona State was reliant on a brand new first string, and when guys are in new roles, they make mistakes. Plus, add to that an awkward quarterback situation -- starter Taylor Kelly was hurt, missed three games, then played inconsistently for a while as fans clamored for effective backup Mike Bercovici -- and you've got a high likelihood for random breakdowns. They were costly, but it's hard to mourn too much, considering the good record and good fortune.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.7%||63||Succ. Rt. +||99.7||71|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||27.0||9||Def. FP+||104.0||26|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.8||36||Redzone S&P+||95.2||79|
|Q1 Rk||58||1st Down Rk||45|
|Q2 Rk||46||2nd Down Rk||18|
|Q3 Rk||46||3rd Down Rk||53|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Mike Bercovici||6'1, 204||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8578||115||186||1445||12||4||61.8%||9||4.6%||7.2|
|Manny Wilkins||6'2, 184||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8938|
|Coltin Gerhart||5'11, 203||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8491|
|Brady White||6'1, 195||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9660|
|Bryce Perkins||6'3, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8647|
3. Surviving injury
Three games into 2014, Kelly was performing about as well as could have been asked. Against three weak defenses, he was completing 62 percent at 14.9 yards per completion with six touchdowns and no picks, and he had managed a passer rating of at least 152.9 in each game.
Kelly suffered a foot injury, which led to a couple of different types of awkwardness. First, his replacement, Bercovici, threw two first-half interceptions in his first game against UCLA, the second of which was returned 95 yards for a game-turning pick six. Down 20-17 at the time of the pick, the Sun Devils went from tied or leading at half to trailing by 10. And then the floodgates opened in an eventual 35-point loss.
But then things got awkward in a different way. Berkovici played brilliantly in wins over good USC and Stanford defenses, completing 64 percent of his passes at 15.1 yards per completion, with six TDs and no INTs. Then, after missing three games, Kelly returned but struggled, throwing five picks in four games and topping 135 in passer rating just once. So began the "play the other guy!" clamor.
Graham stuck with Kelly, who alternated between good and shaky and was downright poor in the loss to Oregon State before rebounding. Bercovici, meanwhile, built buzz for 2015.
Granted, now that he's the starter he loses his "most popular guy on the team" status, and because sports fans are sports fans, Bercovici's first bad game will likely produce clamor for well-touted backup Manny Wilkins or blue-chip freshman Brady White. But for now, Bercovici is the man, and ASU seems to be in good hands. Bercovici is not the mobile threat that Kelly was, but Kelly's mobility also led to quite a few sacks. As long as the skill position talent is strong enough to account for Bercovici's lead legs, the offense should rebound nicely this year.
|D.J. Foster||RB||5'11, 195||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9393||196||1081||9||5.5||6.1||39.3%||3||1|
|Demario Richard||RB||5'10, 213||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8838||84||478||4||5.7||6.0||40.5%||0||0|
|Kalen Ballage||RB||6'3, 222||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.8904||42||126||3||3.0||2.2||26.2%||1||0|
|Mike Bercovici||QB||6'1, 204||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8578||17||63||0||3.7||2.3||35.3%||2||1|
|De'Chavon Hayes||RB||5'11, 182||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8610|
|Jason Lewis||RB||6'3, 235||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9189|
4. Running well against good defenses
Despite the loss of leading receiver Jaelen Strong to the Houston Texans, ASU doesn't appear to lack for weapons. First of all, the Sun Devils have D.J. Foster, one of the best dual-threats in the country; he was ASU's No. 1 rusher and No. 2 target, and including carries and targets, he averaged 22.2 intended touches and 136.1 yards per game. His run efficiency could have stood to improve, but that might be on the offensive line. And besides, he's expected to play primarily at receiver this year.
Beyond Foster, there are plenty of other underclass options. Little-used targets like tight end Kody Kohl, sophomore Ellis Jefferson, and backup RB Demario Richard made the most of the opportunities they got, and UCLA graduate transfer Devin Lucien has, at the least, been around the block. Plus, recruiting has produced a couple of four-star redshirt freshmen (receivers Tyler Whiley and Jalen Harvey), a four-star freshman (big running back Jason Lewis), and a couple of exciting JUCO options. It would appear Bercovici has the weapons he needs.
Of course, it would help if ASU could run the ball against better defenses. Foster averaged an absurd 9.4 yards per carry against Weber State, New Mexico, and Colorado to start the season, then 6.7 against Washington State and Duke. But against UCLA, USC, Stanford, and Arizona, he averaged 2.4.
ASU was rendered one-dimensional, and while Bercovici's brilliant play salvaged wins against USC and Stanford, they weren't enough against UCLA, Arizona, or Oregon State (Foster against the Beavers: 14 carries, 51 yards). All the receiving weapons in the world will mean only so much if Foster cannot take advantage of better blocking.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|D.J. Foster||RB||5'11, 195||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9393||93||62||688||66.7%||20.8%||50.5%||7.4||-56||7.5||93.6|
|Cameron Smith||WR-Z||5'11, 193||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8189||63||41||596||65.1%||14.1%||66.7%||9.5||102||9.0||81.1|
|WR||6'1, 201||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8923||38||29||25||76.3%||9.1%||57.9%||5.9||-115||5.9||31.3|
|Kody Kohl||TE||6'3, 230||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7969||22||16||167||72.7%||4.9%||63.6%||7.6||-22||7.4||22.7|
|Frederick Gammage||WR-Y||5'10, 175||Jr.||NR||NR||20||16||127||80.0%||4.5%||60.0%||6.4||-59||6.4||17.3|
|Demario Richard||RB||5'10, 213||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8838||18||13||156||72.2%||4.0%||61.1%||8.7||2||8.6||21.2|
|Ellis Jefferson||WR-X||6'4, 211||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8488||18||11||144||61.1%||4.0%||50.0%||8.0||10||8.0||19.6|
|Gary Chambers||WR-Y||6'4, 211||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8146||14||10||204||71.4%||3.1%||64.3%||14.6||85||14.7||27.8|
|Kalen Ballage||RB||6'3, 222||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.8904||7||6||64||85.7%||1.6%||71.4%||9.1||-5||8.0||8.7|
|Ronald Lewis||WR-Z||5'11, 192||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8634||6||2||12||33.3%||1.3%||66.7%||2.0||-16||1.7||1.6|
|Grant Martinez||TE||6'5, 222||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8401||2||0||0||0.0%||0.4%||50.0%||0.0||-3||0.0||0.0|
|Eric Lauderdale||WR-Z||6'2, 190||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8969|
|Dan Vear||TE||6'5, 231||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Tyler Whiley||WR||6'0, 207||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9259|
|Jalen Harvey||WR||6'0, 196||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8971|
|Raymond Epps||TE||6'4, 230||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8347|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Jamil Douglas||LT||40||2014 1st All-Pac-12|
|Nick Kelly||C||6'2, 294||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7875||13||2014 2nd All-Pac-12|
|Vi Teofilo||RG||6'3, 304||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8191||30|
|Christian Westerman||LG||6'4, 301||Sr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9928||12|
|Stephon McCray||C||6'2, 317||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8428||1|
|Devin Goodman||RG||6'1, 280||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8279||0|
|William McGehee||RT||6'6, 312||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000||0|
|Evan Goodman||LT||6'4, 314||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9243||0|
|Sam Jones||LT||6'5, 297||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8722|
|Zach Robertson||OL||6'5, 322||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9504|
|Steven Miller||LG||6'4, 315||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8498|
|Mason Walter||OL||6'5, 290||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8650|
|Cade Cote||OL||6'3, 275||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8553|
5. When line stats lag behind
ASU's line stats were pretty terrible. We can always talk about how others play a role in line stats -- running backs have to take advantage of the blocking they get, quarterbacks need to pass the ball while the protection is actually protecting -- but it's still a red flag when the line stats lag far behind the others.
ASU ranked 70th in Rushing S&P+ and 82nd in Adj. Line Yards, 38th in Passing S&P+ but 116th in Adj. Sack Rate. And in the three stats I attribute most heavily to the line, ASU was awful: 122nd in power success rate, 101st in stuff rate, 107th in passing downs sack rate. Yuck.
Of course, these didn't stop ASU from getting two linemen on the all-conference team. Sometimes there's a disconnect between stats and perceptions, and sometimes a good lineman or two cannot salvage the line's performance as a whole.
Regardless, well-regarded center Nick Kelly returns, as does two-year starting guard Vi Teofilo. It's scary to replace both starting tackles when your sack rates were already terrible (especially considering Jamil Douglas was first-team all-conference in a league that featured quite a few strong tackles), but at the very least, Bercovici is less sack-prone than Kelly.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.4%||43||Succ. Rt. +||109.2||34|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||32.5||22||Off. FP+||109.1||7|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||67||Redzone S&P+||112.4||24|
|Q1 Rk||7||1st Down Rk||56|
|Q2 Rk||47||2nd Down Rk||27|
|Q3 Rk||58||3rd Down Rk||52|
6. Wanted: depth
When you lose as many first-stringers as ASU did heading into 2014, it has a couple effects. First, it likely leads to first-string inconsistency.
Beyond that, it probably makes your second string less proven, too. And while breakdowns against UCLA and Oregon State matched that of a young team, the Sun Devils also showed sketchy depth: ASU ranked seventh in Q1 S&P+, 47th in Q2, 58th in Q3, and 109th in Q4.
Winning blowouts can hurt your Q4 ratings (since quarter-specific ratings do not filter out garbage time), but ASU was in plenty of close games. The Sun Devils were outscored 35-17 in the fourth quarter of their three losses, and 45 of the 106 points they allowed to Stanford, USC, and Notre Dame (42 percent) came in the final 15 minutes.
This year, ASU returns as much as it lost last year. In safety Damarious Randall and end Marcus Hardison, the Sun Devils have two extreme playmakers to replace; the two combined for 24.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 5 interceptions, 11 break-ups, and five forced fumbles. But that's almost literally all ASU has to replace.
The backbone of the defense -- tackles Tashon Smallwood (a major contributor as a freshman) and Viliami Latu, linebackers Antonio Longino and Salamo Fiso, and free safety Jordan Simone -- returns intact, as do every cornerback and basically all of ASU's second string. And as with the offense, a new crop of young four-stars waits for an opportunity. Depth may have been an issue last year, but it's hard to say it will be in 2015.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tashon Smallwood||DT||6'0, 285||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8904||13||20.0||2.6%||5.5||2.0||0||0||1||1|
|Viliami Latu||NT||6'2, 291||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8711||13||18.5||2.4%||5.0||2.0||0||0||0||1|
|Edmond Boateng||DEVIL||6'3, 256||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8641||13||18.5||2.4%||4.5||2.5||0||0||0||0|
|Demetrius Cherry||DEVIL||6'5, 298||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8422||12||13.5||1.8%||1.0||0.0||0||1||0||2|
|Mo Latu||DT||6'2, 397||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8738||12||6.5||0.9%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Corey Smith||DT||6'6, 287||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8408|
|Emanuel Dayries||DT||6'3, 295||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7667|
|Connor Humphreys||NT||6'3, 286||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.8937|
|Renell Wren||DE||6'5, 284||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8613|
|Deonte Reynolds||NT||6'5, 325||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8656|
|JoJo Wicker||DL||6'4, 278||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9570|
|Jalen Bates||DE||6'5, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8690|
|George Lea||DT||6'2, 272||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8544|
|Marshall Wallace||DE||6'4, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8888|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Antonio Longino||WILL||6'2, 229||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8609||13||75.0||9.8%||6.0||2.0||0||2||1||1|
|Salamo Fiso||SAM||6'1, 236||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8849||13||67.5||8.9%||11.0||3.5||1||0||0||0|
|Laiu Moeakiola||SPUR||6'1, 212||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.7000||13||59.0||7.7%||10.5||5.0||0||2||1||0|
|DJ Calhoun||WILL||6'0, 213||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9271||13||28.0||3.7%||6.5||2.0||0||2||1||0|
|Christian Sam||SPUR||6'1, 228||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8659||13||13.0||1.7%||1.0||1.0||1||1||0||0|
|Alani Latu||SAM||6'2, 255||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8441||8||7.5||1.0%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Carlos Mendoza||LB||6'1, 228||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8469||7||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Chans Cox||LB||6'3, 246||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9222|
|Ishmael Murphy-Richardson||LB||6'4, 210||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8650|
|Jamal Scott||LB||6'2, 223||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8498|
|Khaylan Thomas||LB||6'2, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8979|
|Mark Lawal||LB||6'1, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8613|
7. A good front returns everybody
ASU attacked the run on standard downs and the pass on passing downs, and the Sun Devils were effective at both. While this wasn't the steadiest unit, the Sun Devils were able to leverage teams into three-and-outs and turnovers, which did serious field position favors for the offense.
Losing Hardison could affect the pass rush, but the run front is intact. Smallwood, Latu, and Edmond Boateng played well as a freshman, sophomore, and sophomore, respectively, and monstrous Mo Latu should see situational work. Four-star nose Connor Humphreys and big JUCO transfer Deonte Reynolds could be in the rotation.
Meanwhile, the top four returning linebackers combined for 12.5 sacks and 21.5 non-sack TFLs, and they're all back.
Boateng and big Demetrius Cherry were decent from the Devilbacker position, but there was still a big drop-off from the damage Carl Bradford did in 2013 (19 TFLs, 8.5 sacks). They will need to raise their game to account for the loss of Hardison; if they don't, that will put pressure on younger ends and on the secondary to hold coverage longer.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jordan Simone||FS||6'0, 193||Sr.||NR||NR||12||87.0||11.4%||4.5||1||2||0||1||1|
|Lloyd Carrington||CB||6'0, 194||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7000||13||51.5||6.8%||6||3||1||5||1||0|
|Kweishi Brown||CB||6'0, 206||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8697||13||40.5||5.3%||2||0||3||6||1||0|
|Armand Perry||CB||6'0, 191||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8390||13||30.0||3.9%||3.5||2.5||1||1||0||0|
|James Johnson||FS||6'1, 192||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8254||13||21.5||2.8%||3||1||0||2||0||0|
|Chad Adams||BS||5'9, 180||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8370||13||5.0||0.7%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Marcus Ball||FS||6'2, 215||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8631||10||5.0||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|DeAndre Scott||BS||5'9, 184||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8522||10||4.5||0.6%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Solomon Means||CB||6'0, 182||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7833||10||4.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ezekiel Bishop||DB||5'10, 190||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8569|
|Ronald Lewis||CB||5'11, 192||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8634|
|Jayme Otomewo||S||6'1, 186||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8569|
|Dasmond Tautalatasi||DB||6'0, 198||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8195|
|Kareem Orr||CB||6'0, 191||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8578|
8. Freshmen become sophomores
Of course, the secondary might be capable of lengthy coverage. Seniors Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown are back after combining for eight tackles for loss, four picks, and 11 break-ups. Unheralded field safety Jordan Simone was a pleasant surprise. Their return ensures a pretty high floor, and the development of a big batch of sophomores could make for a high ceiling. Corner Armand Perry and four safeties, led by James Johnson, all saw the field. Big things are expected of Johnson.
ASU's defensive mentality mirrors its offense's: fast, multiple, and aggressive. The Sun Devils don't want you to find a rhythm, and they want you to have to react to what they're doing.
Despite the turnover, they actually averaged more tackles for loss per game last year than they did in 2013, but their passes defensed fell a bit. That's not guaranteed to improve without Randall, but one has to feel pretty good about how this secondary will develop. And even with three senior starters, there is so much upside that ASU should be set in the secondary into 2017.
|Matt Haack||6'1, 199||Jr.||53||43.3||4||7||17||45.3%|
|Zane Gonzalez||6'1, 189||Jr.||50-52||16-17||94.1%||6-10||60.0%|
|Kalen Ballage||KR||6'3, 222||So.||6||31.2||0|
|Special Teams F/+||38|
|Field Goal Efficiency||21|
|Punt Return Efficiency||50|
|Kick Return Efficiency||71|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||102|
9. Punts were kinder than kicks
ASU maybe asked Zane Gonzalez to do a little too much last year; his 27 field goal attempts were the 12th most in the country and a sign of stalled scoring opportunities. Still, he mostly came through, missing only one of 17 field goals under 40 yards and nailing over half of his 40-pluses.
Combined with decent punting and punt returns, ASU managed a top-40 overall special teams ranking in 2014. But kicks were an issue; only 36 percent of Alex Garoutte's kickoffs were touchbacks, and ASU allowed 23.3 yards per kick return, 112th in the country. Kyle Middlebrooks and returnee Kalen Ballage each had big kick returns, but they weren't very consistent.
Because of turnovers and punts, ASU ranked 13th in the country (second in the Pac-12) in field position margin at plus-5.5 yards per possession. But the Sun Devils could have been top-10 with better kick coverage and steadier returns.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|5-Sep||vs. Texas A&M||22|
|7-Nov||at Washington State||66|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||20.4% (28)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||24 / 35|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||14 / 1.8|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+4.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (7, 9)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||9.7 (0.3)|
10. Win early and late
Scouting the enemy
Scouting the enemy
From September 26 to October 29, ASU will play the three most highly projected teams in the Pac-12; Oregon and USC come to Tempe in this five-game stretch, while the Sun Devils visit both UCLA and a Utah team that nearly knocked ASU off last year.
These results will determine whether ASU is a threat to win the Pac-12 South, but the seven games sandwiching them are where the wins could add up. ASU gets Arizona at home and faces three teams projected worse than 50th in November, and Cal Poly and New Mexico visit early. But the Texas A&M game in Houston is one of the more pertinent, interesting games of Week 1. Both are teams that should finish between about 15th and 30th, and an ASU win would make a third straight 10-win season awfully feasible.
For most of the last 30 years, ASU has been more tantalizing than reliable. The Sun Devils went 10-1-1 and finished fourth in the polls in 1986, then won either six or seven games for seven of the next nine years. They nearly won the national title in 1996, went 9-3 in 1997, then fell into another rut, winning between five and seven games in six of the proceeding nine years. Seemingly every coach ASU hired, from John Cooper in the 1980s to Erickson in the 2000s, pulled off one excellent season before drifting toward above average.
Graham is threatening to change that. I'm not sure his 2015 squad will have enough juice to win a second South title in three years, but they'll contend, and after 28 wins in Graham's first three years, they will almost certainly avoid the six- or seven-win rut once again in 2015 ... and in foreseeable seasons as well.
The Pac-12 South is the second-best division in college football (behind the SEC West), and the development of the Arizona schools is the primary reason why.