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Arizona State won 10 games in a rebuilding year. Sun Devils are built for 2015 and beyond

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Not only is Todd Graham still at ASU, he's still building something impressive.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

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.

-- The 2014 Arizona State guide

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
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
28-Aug Weber State N/A 45-14 W 75% 15.6 100%
6-Sep at New Mexico 94 58-23 W 93% 33.7 100%
13-Sep at Colorado 83 38-24 W 76% 16.4 97%
25-Sep UCLA 12 27-62 L 13% -26.4 0%
4-Oct at USC 16 38-34 W 82% 21.8 88%
18-Oct Stanford 18 26-10 W 94% 35.4 97%
25-Oct at Washington 58 24-10 W 79% 19.1 92%
1-Nov Utah 29 19-16 W 82% 21.2 92%
8-Nov Notre Dame 34 55-31 W 89% 29.2 98%
15-Nov at Oregon State 74 27-35 L 23% -17.5 12%
22-Nov Washington State 77 52-31 W 82% 21.3 99%
28-Nov at Arizona 28 35-42 L 26% -15.1 8%
27-Dec vs. Duke 51 36-31 W 77% 17.2 83%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 35.4 27 25.3 47
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.94 20 IsoPPP+ 116.4 35
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.0 ACTUAL 13 -7.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 36 45 68 35
RUSHING 58 70 78 68
PASSING 33 38 60 24
Standard Downs 42 84 23
Passing Downs 62 46 81
Q1 Rk 58 1st Down Rk 45
Q2 Rk 46 2nd Down Rk 18
Q3 Rk 46 3rd Down Rk 53
Q4 Rk 35

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Taylor Kelly
165 278 2114 22 5 59.4% 30 9.7% 6.3
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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
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
Taylor Kelly QB
65 443 3 6.8 5.9 53.8% 5 2
Kalen Ballage RB 6'3, 222 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8904 42 126 3 3.0 2.2 26.2% 1 0
Deantre Lewis RB
41 190 1 4.6 3.2 43.9% 0 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
Kyle Middlebrooks RB
7 21 0 3.0 0.5 14.3% 2 0
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.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jaelen Strong WR-X
152 82 1165 53.9% 34.0% 61.2% 7.7 138 7.7 158.4
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
Devin Lucien
(UCLA)
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
De'Marieya Nelson TE
17 13 125 76.5% 3.8% 64.7% 7.4 -27 7.1 17.0
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
Deantre Lewis RB
13 9 108 69.2% 2.9% 61.5% 8.3 1 8.0 14.7
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

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 98.8 2.99 3.44 40.9% 52.9% 21.7% 74.6 7.9% 10.4%
Rank 82 58 48 44 122 101 116 115 107
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Tyler Sulka RT
28
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.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.81 42 IsoPPP+ 111.1 40
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.8 ACTUAL 27.0 +5.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 83 37 34 40
RUSHING 51 38 31 51
PASSING 106 46 41 47
Standard Downs 40 36 37
Passing Downs 42 39 45
Q1 Rk 7 1st Down Rk 56
Q2 Rk 47 2nd Down Rk 27
Q3 Rk 58 3rd Down Rk 52
Q4 Rk 109

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.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 113.7 2.78 2.46 36.1% 62.5% 22.2% 144.4 7.4% 9.2%
Rank 21 41 11 32 35 28 9 15 35
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Marcus Hardison DE
13 42.5 5.6% 15.0 10.0 2 2 3 1
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
Jaxon Hood DT
8 7.5 1.0% 2.5 0.0 0 2 0 0
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








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Marcus Washington LB
5 3.5 0.5% 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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Damarious Randall BS
13 96.5 12.7% 9.5 1 3 9 2 0
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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Matt Haack 6'1, 199 Jr. 53 43.3 4 7 17 45.3%
Taylor Kelly 9 36.8 1 0 7 77.8%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Alex Garoutte 91 61.9 33 3 36.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Zane Gonzalez 6'1, 189 Jr. 50-52 16-17 94.1% 6-10 60.0%
Alex Garoutte 3-3 1-1 100.0% 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Kyle Middlebrooks KR 14 22.2 0
Kalen Ballage KR 6'3, 222 So. 6 31.2 0
Kyle Middlebrooks PR 8 6.1 0
Damarious Randall PR 6 1.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 38
Field Goal Efficiency 21
Punt Return Efficiency 50
Kick Return Efficiency 71
Punt Efficiency 44
Kickoff Efficiency 84
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

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep vs. Texas A&M 22
12-Sep Cal Poly NR
18-Sep New Mexico 104
26-Sep USC 13
3-Oct at UCLA 7
10-Oct Colorado 75
17-Oct at Utah 39
29-Oct Oregon 4
7-Nov at Washington State 66
14-Nov Washington 55
21-Nov Arizona 34
28-Nov at California 51
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

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.