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Arizona State football is still in good shape, but expect another crazy-volatile 2016

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Worry about Todd Graham's program? Nah.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. I was, uh, wrong

The point of 2014 was to survive a reset. 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.

-- 2015 Arizona State guide

I like to think I have a good read on a program's trajectory. That only helps so much when it comes to figuring out a season's results -- the ball is still pointy, and injuries have a massive impact -- but from a 20,000-foot view, trends become noticeable.

Arizona State's 2015 caught me completely off guard. The Sun Devils were lucky to finish with 10 wins the previous year; they benefited from extreme turnovers luck and stole the USC game with the easiest Hail Mary completion of all time. Still, they maintained quality while turning over the two-deep, then returned a ton of starters. That's typically a sign of experience and depth and a steady harbinger of success.

Instead, ASU played like a thin, inexperienced team last fall. The offense was dramatically up-and-down, starting slowly before finding its form, sometimes too late. The defense played one of the smallest rotations in the country, which was a bit of a problem, considering the offense was moving at a fast pace and stalling out a lot. Predictably, it faded horribly in the second half of games, just as the offense was getting things figured out.

The result was massive instability, the type you're not supposed to see from a seasoned team. ASU won five games by 14 or more points and lost four by 14 or more. The Sun Devils looked the part of a top-30 team for about two-thirds of the year but laid five significant eggs.

And now that strangely thin roster has been thinned out further.

The only quarterback to throw a pass is gone, as are two players who combined for 208 targets, four offensive linemen who combined for 106 career starts, and four of the top five defensive backs. In all of the areas in which returning production seems particularly important, ASU doesn't have much.

So which one was I wrong about in last year's preview: ASU's trajectory or ASU's 2015? Did a weird 6-7 season reveal a program on iffy footing, or was last year a case of a singular cause?

Graham has recruited at a top-30 level and produced 10-game winners in two of his first three years. He still has a roster with speed and potential star power. But his 2016 Sun Devils have a spectacular amount to prove.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 50 | Final S&P+ Rk: 57
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep vs. Texas A&M 34 17-38 L 29% 4% -21.8 -17.5
12-Sep Cal Poly N/A 35-21 W 73% 95% -25.1
18-Sep New Mexico 99 34-10 W 94% 100% -2.5 -4.0
26-Sep USC 17 14-42 L 14% 0% -24.6 -22.5
3-Oct at UCLA 28 38-23 W 69% 48% +26.5 +28.5
10-Oct Colorado 94 48-23 W 93% 100% +1.1 +10.0
17-Oct at Utah 22 18-34 L 15% 0% -8.1 -9.5
29-Oct Oregon 23 55-61 L 67% 52% -7.5 -8.5
7-Nov at Washington State 54 24-38 L 45% 19% -11.1 -11.5
14-Nov Washington 13 27-17 W 78% 71% +18.6 +7.5
21-Nov Arizona 77 52-37 W 81% 89% +9.0 +15.0
28-Nov at California 29 46-48 L 41% 12% +4.4 +2.0
2-Jan vs. West Virginia 31 42-43 L 66% 42% +9.6 0.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 34.8 31 29.7 77
Points Per Game 34.6 32 33.5 99

2. 5 duds

ASU's poor performances weren't necessarily correlated to whether the Sun Devils were playing good or bad teams. Sure, they got blown out by USC (F/+ No. 17) and, to a lesser degree, Utah (No. 22). But they also lost by 14 to No. 54 Washington State while handling No. 13 Washington. They thumped No. 28 UCLA in Los Angeles while fading late against No. 34 Texas A&M. They beat UCLA by more than they beat Cal Poly.

When ASU didn't have it, ASU really didn't have it.

  • 5 duds (Texas A&M, USC, Utah, Wazzu, Cal):
    Record: 0-5 | Average percentile performance: 29% (~top 90) | Yards per play: Opp 6.8, ASU 5.0 (-1.8)
  • 8 other games:
    Record: 6-2 | Average percentile performance: 78% (~top 30) | Yards per play: ASU 6.3, Opp 5.9 (+0.4)

S&P+ struggled all season to get a read on what this team was capable of. The Sun Devils were projected awfully high and drastically underachieved in September, but they rallied and overachieved their projections most of the rest of the season.

  • ASU vs. S&P+ projection (first 4 games): -18.5 PPG (record: 2-2)
  • ASU vs. S&P+ projection (next 5 games): +0.2 PPG (record: 2-3)
  • ASU vs. S&P+ projection (last 4 games): +10.4 PPG (record: 2-2)

The late-season improvement could be seen as a good thing if the core of the roster was returning the next year. But I'm not sure that's the case. ASU does return two exciting (if inefficient) junior running backs in Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, the return of receiver Cameron Smith from injury will offset the losses a bit, Salamo Fiso is a missile disguised as a strongside linebacker, and sophomore safety Kareem Orr is a ballhawk. But this feels like a rebuild of sorts.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.34 30 IsoPPP+ 105.2 49
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.4% 80 Succ. Rt. + 98.4 79
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.2 37 Def. FP+ 27.6 27
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.5 62 Redzone S&P+ 106.6 48
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.8 ACTUAL 19 -7.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 24 62 79 49
RUSHING 56 77 98 60
PASSING 20 54 55 56
Standard Downs 57 89 47
Passing Downs 67 64 63
Q1 Rk 102 1st Down Rk 67
Q2 Rk 63 2nd Down Rk 87
Q3 Rk 70 3rd Down Rk 28
Q4 Rk 26

3. A Chip Lindsey offense

Graham has a fantastic résumé when it comes to hiring offensive coaches. He hired current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn as his offensive co-coordinator at Tulsa. He brought in current SMU head coach Chad Morris as a Malzahn replacement. And in his first four years at ASU, his offense was run by Mike Norvell, now the Memphis head coach after three straight years of ranking 31st or better in Off. S&P+.

Graham's selection of Chip Lindsey to replace Norvell, then, feels as much like a crowning as a hire.

Lindsey checks all the boxes Graham seems to seek. He's got a significant high school coaching background, which Graham values. ("I believe in the teacher model. I started off coaching seventh grade football, then moved up to high school, then to small college, then mid-major, then to the majors.") And he utilized a fast-paced spread offense as Southern Miss coordinator the last two years. The Golden Eagles ranked 41st in Off. S&P+ in 2015 after three consecutive years of ineptitude.

Southern Miss threw a little bit more frequently than ASU last year and didn't move with quite the same tempo, but the intent was similar. And while efficiency was just decent, the Golden Eagles were the only team in the country to produce more than 100 gains of 20-plus yards.

Lindsey seems to be exactly what Graham looks for. And when he succeeds and moves on, Graham will probably find another one who fits the bill.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Mike Bercovici 318 531 3854 30 9 59.9% 37 6.5% 6.4
Manny Wilkins 6'3, 190 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8938
Brady White 6'2, 200 RSFr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9660
Bryce Perkins 6'3, 215 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8647
Dillon Sterling-Cole 6'3, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8889

4. The value of random reps

Of course, any coordinator is going to need a quarterback. Lindsey will also serve as QBs coach. His charges possess upside and almost no experience.

Manny Wilkins was Mike Bercovici's backup last season and threw fewer passes than punter Matt Haack. He did rush seven times, and he obviously did all the studying and prep work that comes with being the backup. But we didn't see a single pass in a real game.

Does that actually matter? Most of what you learn is in practice; does it make a difference that Wilkins has thrown zero passes as opposed to, say, 17 passes in garbage time? Probably not.

Regardless, Wilkins did not secure the starting job this spring, and either of two redshirt freshmen could surpass him, particularly 2015 blue-chipper Brady White.

Wilkins is a pretty mobile QB, so the winner could be determined by Lindsey's philosophy. He was pass-heavy at Southern Miss, but he might not be married to that. An offense built around read option might be best served by Wilkins. But White is far from immobile, and he has the best arm on the roster.

Intent could also be dictated by the offensive line. Four starters, including Christian Westerman, are gone, and the two-deep will be made up of only a couple of seniors and mostly sophomores, redshirt freshmen, and two JUCOs. There are some former star recruits, but chemistry up front could be an obvious issue.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Demario Richard TB 5'10, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8838 211 1132 7 5.4 5.2 39.3% 3 2
Kalen Ballage TB 6'3, 230 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8904 125 653 4 5.2 6.1 36.8% 3 1
Mike Bercovici QB 72 302 6 4.2 3.4 44.4% 11 3
D.J. Foster WR 55 280 1 5.1 6.2 32.7% 0 0
De'Chavon Hayes RB 5'11, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8610 16 57 0 3.6 2.4 37.5% 1 1
Manny Wilkins QB 6'3, 190 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8938 7 55 0 7.9 8.7 42.9% 0 0
Jacom Brimhall RB 5'8, 185 Jr. NR NR
Jason Lewis TB 6'3, 235 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9189
Nick Ralston TB 6'1, 240 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8261
Tre Turner TB 5'10, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8590







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
D.J. Foster WR-Z 109 59 584 54.1% 21.1% 5.4 58.7% 41.3% 1.21
Devin Lucien WR-X 99 66 1074 66.7% 19.2% 10.8 57.6% 54.5% 1.88
Tim White SLOT 5'11, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 82 57 633 69.5% 15.9% 7.7 68.3% 47.6% 1.54
Cameron Smith
(2014)
WR-Z 5'11, 193 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8189 63 41 596 65.1% 14.1% 9.5 66.7% N/A N/A
Kody Kohl TE 6'3, 235 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7969 51 32 368 62.7% 9.9% 7.2 60.8% 58.8% 1.08
Demario Richard RB 5'10, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8838 48 31 303 64.6% 9.3% 6.3 47.9% 31.2% 1.86
Gary Chambers SLOT 38 26 486 68.4% 7.4% 12.8 39.5% 50.0% 2.51
Ellis Jefferson WR-X 6'5, 212 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8488 25 12 160 48.0% 4.8% 6.4 64.0% 44.0% 1.31
Kalen Ballage RB 6'3, 230 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8904 20 12 60 60.0% 3.9% 3.0 40.0% 25.0% 1.13
De'Chavon Hayes RB 5'11, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8610 16 11 44 68.8% 3.1% 2.8 50.0% 12.5% 1.99
Frederick Gammage WR-Z 5'11, 185 Sr. NR NR 10 4 44 40.0% 1.9% 4.4 80.0% 40.0% 0.99
Jalen Harvey WR 6'1, 200 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8971 8 4 73 50.0% 1.6% 9.1 75.0% 37.5% 2.39
Raymond Epps TE 6'5, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8347 8 4 52 50.0% 1.6% 6.5 75.0% 50.0% 1.37
Eric Lauderdale SLOT 6'2, 194 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8969
Ryan Jenkins WR 5'9, 197 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8833
Grant Martinez TE 6'5, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8401
Terrell Chatman WR-X 6'3, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8632
Tommy Hudson TE 6'5, 255 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8569
N'Keal Harry WR 6'4, 200 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9732
Jared Bubak TE 6'4, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8600
Kyle Williams WR 5'10, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8583
Jeremy Smith WR 6'2, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8529

5. Still enough weapons

If the ASU offense is to stumble, it will be because of inefficiency. It was an issue last year, and that was without a new QB or coordinator. Whatever Lindsey's plan of attack is, it might not be able to avoid third-and-longs and other inefficiency issues.

The big plays should still be there, though, and while you can't always count on them, they can bail you out of a lot of problems.

Richard and Ballage both topped 5 highlight yards per opportunity -- a general benchmark for solid explosiveness -- and Cameron Smith averaged nearly 15 yards per catch in 2014. And the youngsters are thrilling: blue-chip freshman N'Keal Harry, four-star sophomore Jalen Harvey, etc.

The offense could start as few as three seniors and as many as six freshmen or sophomores. Whatever it is in 2016, it will be stronger in 2017 and maybe stronger in 2018, too. But there's enough turnover here to assume that avoiding further regression for at least one year could be hard.

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 98.7 3.02 2.99 38.9% 65.9% 18.6% 98.2 6.2% 7.2%
Rank 80 44 87 66 69 51 66 88 61
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Christian Westerman LG 13 25 2015 2nd All-Pac-12
Vi Teofilo RG 13 43
Nick Kelly C 13 26
William McGehee RT 12 12
Evan Goodman LT 6'4, 310 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9243 11 11
Sam Jones LG 6'5, 297 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8722 3 3
Stephon McCray RG 6'3, 314 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8428 0 1
Connor Humphreys RG 6'3, 290 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8937 0 0
Quinn Bailey RT 6'5, 311 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8457 0 0
Tyler McClure C 6'1, 271 Jr. NR NR 0 0
Zach Robertson LT 6'6, 330 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9504

Mason Walter RT 6'5, 294 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8650

Cade Cote C 6'4, 281 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8553

Steven Miller LG 6'5, 310 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8498

Dillon Faamatau RG 6'4, 283 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8407

Tyson Rising OL 6'5, 275 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8567

A.J. McCollum OL 6'2, 280 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8479

Cohl Cabral OL 6'5, 285 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8801

Marshal Nathe OL 6'3, 290 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8504


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.49 125 IsoPPP+ 95.7 82
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.6% 37 Succ. Rt. + 117.9 13
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.1 41 Off. FP+ 31.5 31
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.0 110 Redzone S&P+ 103.7 50
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.9 ACTUAL 21.0 +2.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 113 49 13 82
RUSHING 20 27 9 36
PASSING 128 65 19 92
Standard Downs 34 9 59
Passing Downs 89 48 97
Q1 Rk 24 1st Down Rk 52
Q2 Rk 22 2nd Down Rk 40
Q3 Rk 54 3rd Down Rk 112
Q4 Rk 125

6. No depth, no risk-reward balance

Arizona State basically played about four linemen and six defensive backs and faded drastically in the second half: the Sun Devils ranks 24th in Q1 S&P+, 22nd in Q2, 54th in Q3, and 125th in Q4. With the tempo ASU prefers, depth is a must, and ASU simply had none. Almost nobody outside of the returning starters made an impact. That was, to me, unexpected.

You could still see the bones of the Graham-Keith Patterson defense. ASU attacked the run on standard downs and the passer on passing downs and ranked eighth in Adj. Line Yards, 11th in stuff rate, and 13th in passing downs sack rate. But the dam never cracked; it only broke. The Sun Devils allowed 67 passes of 20-plus yards, at least four more than everyone else in FBS, and 24 of those went for 40-plus (also by far the worst).

There's a risk-reward balance to aggression. You make more big stops and give up more big gains. As evidenced by the fact that the Sun Devils gave up at least 34 points in eight of 13 games, that balance was skewed a bit. And in weighing how to attempt to move the ball against ASU, opponents clearly saw the pass was a more favorable option; they threw 10.4 percent more than the national average on standard downs and 5.3 percent more on passing downs.

An anonymous coach told ESPN that opponents had "figured out" Graham's defense. And maybe that's true. But if you have the weapons, it doesn't necessarily matter whether opponents know what you want to do; and besides that, it's been obvious what Graham wants to do for a while. What matters is if he has the horses to do it. He did for a while in 2015, but those weapons faded.

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 118.1 2.40 3.24 35.8% 65.8% 24.8% 119.9 4.3% 11.4%
Rank 8 10 67 36 64 11 34 93 13
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Tashon Smallwood TIGER 6'1, 280 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8904 13 34.0 5.0% 8.5 2.0 0 1 0 0
JoJo Wicker DE 6'3, 275 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9570 13 17.0 2.5% 7.5 4.0 0 0 2 0
Demetrius Cherry NT 13 13.0 1.9% 3.5 0.5 0 2 0 1
Viliami Ami Latu NT 6'2, 290 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8711 12 11.5 1.7% 7.0 3.5 0 0 1 0
Tramel Topps NT 6'2, 280 Sr. NR NR
Corey Smith NT 6'6, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8408
Renell Wren TIGER 6'5, 290 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8613
Emanuel Dayries NT 6'3, 295 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7667
Dougladson Subtyl DE 6'4, 245 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8975
Christian Hill DE 6'6, 265 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8834








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Salamo Fiso SAM 6'0, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8849 13 88.5 13.0% 20.0 4.5 1 2 0 0
Christian Sam WILL 6'1, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8659 13 82.5 12.1% 6.5 3.0 1 2 2 0
Antonio Longino DEVIL 13 57.0 8.3% 22.5 11.0 0 2 2 0
Viliami Moeakiola SPUR 6'1, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8711 12 42.0 6.1% 6.5 2.0 1 5 0 1
DJ Calhoun WILL 6'0, 225 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9271 13 22.0 3.2% 7.5 6.5 0 1 0 0
Ismael Murphy-Richardson DEVIL
12 13.5 2.0% 2.5 2.5 0 1 0 0
James Johnson SPUR 6'1, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8254 10 9.5 1.4% 0.5 0.5 0 1 1 0
Marcus Ball SPUR 6'2, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8631 11 7.5 1.1% 1.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Edmond Boateng DEVIL 6'4, 265 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8641 10 4.5 0.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jay Jay Wilson DEVIL 6'3, 250 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8901 11 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Mendoza WILL 6'1, 231 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8469
Alani "A.J." Latu DEVIL 6'2, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8441
Chans Cox SAM 6'3, 244 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9222
Khaylan Thomas SAM 6'2, 220 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8979
Jalen Bates DEVIL 6'4, 245 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8690
Malik Lawal SPUR 6'1, 220 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8613
George Lea DEVIL 6'2, 276 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544
Koron Crump DEVIL 6'4, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8857

7. Got a line?

ASU does seem deep at linebacker. Fiso was one of the best run-attacking linebackers in the country, making 15.5 non-sack tackles for loss; he made plays against the pass, too. He is a keeper. And between Christian Sam, Viliami Moeakiola, and DJ Calhoun, ASU seems just about set. If converted end Edmond Boateng can click at the devilbacker position, of if a four-star youngster like Jay Jay Wilson or Chans Cox clicks (or if JUCO transfer Koron Crump is an immediate hit), ASU is set. The Sun Devils have play-makers here.

And in theory, we know that ASU's starting line could be pretty big. The top three returnees -- Tashon Smallwood, JoJo Wicker (one of the first 2015 newcomers to have a strong year), and Viliami Latu -- combined for 23 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in 2015.

But heaven help ASU if anyone gets hurt up front. Outside of the top three, all other returning ASU linemen combined for zero tackles. Sophomore Renell Wren was a late-bloomer recruit in the 2014 class and could still bloom, but he's proven nothing so far. And let's just say there's probably a reason why Graham signed two JUCO ends (good ones, no less): it might have been hard to fill the two-deep without them.

If a couple more younger players click, then maybe there's nothing to worry about here. After all, there were more problems in the back of this defense than the front. But the front was still overworked, and the rotation on the line was too small. Will that change?

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Lloyd Carrington CB 13 49.5 7.2% 2 1 1 6 0 0
Jordan Simone BS 10 82.5 12.1% 9 4 2 4 0 0
Kweishi Brown CB 13 40.0 5.9% 1 0 2 10 0 0
Kareem Orr BS 5'11, 195 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8578 12 34.5 5.1% 1.5 0 6 2 1 0
Solomon Means CB 12 20.5 3.0% 1 0 0 3 0 0
Chad Adams CB 5'10, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8370 12 19.0 2.8% 1 1 0 1 0 0
Armand Perry FS 6'1, 200 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8390 2 12.5 1.8% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Dasmond Tautalatasi FS 6'0, 194 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8195 12 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Whiley CB 6'0, 210 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9259
Coltin Gerhart BS 6'0, 205 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8491
J'Marcus Rhodes DB 6'1, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8954
Maurice Chandler DB 6'1, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8732
Chase Lucas DB 6'0, 170 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9106
Robbie Robinson DB 5'10, 175 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8777








8. A lot of production gone

Turnover is less alarming when it happens to a bad unit. But ASU's unit was good and bad at the same time -- the Sun Devils were quite efficient at defending the pass, with a good pass rush and a No. 19 ranking in Passing Success Rate+. But ... well, we covered the big-play issues above. Any breakdown was a significant one.

ASU struggled to keep its base secondary on the field last year. Despite a small rotation, only two of seven primary DBs played in all 13 games. Safety Jordan Simone missed three games, and Armand Perry missed 11 and got a medical redshirt.

As with the front, ASU had what seemed like some high-upside backups but didn't hardly play them, electing to stick with the first string as much as possible. Was that a simple preference, or was it because none of the younger guys were ready? I lean latter. When Graham was forced to make changes because of injury, he seemed to prefer moving the top guys around to unfamiliar positions rather than going with a younger player who played the right position.

Whether sophomores like four-star corner Tyler Whiley or safeties Dasmond Tautalatasi or Coltin Gerhart were ready last year doesn't matter -- they'll have to be this year. So will JUCOs J'Marcus Rhodes and Maurice Chandler. Without them (or perhaps a freshman or two), there might not be enough warm bodies for a two-deep. Only four returnees made the stat sheet.

I think there's more of a concern at corner than safety. Orr should be a good one, and there are enough younger players and newcomers to assume that a couple of them break through. But last year's breakdowns, combined with Graham's unwillingness to play the younger guys, gives me significant pause.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Matt Haack 6'1, 199 Sr. 74 43.1 2 13 29 56.8%
Mike Bercovici 3 35.7 0 0 3 100.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Zane Gonzalez 6'1, 190 Sr. 88 64.2 66 2 75.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Zane Gonzalez 6'1, 190 Sr. 52-52 22-24 91.7% 4-10 40.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Tim White KR 5'11, 185 Sr. 36 27.0 1
De'Chavon Hayes KR 5'11, 190 Sr. 10 17.2 0
De'Chavon Hayes KR 5'11, 190 Sr. 17 8.4 0
Tim White PR 5'11, 185 Sr. 6 5.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 57
Field Goal Efficiency 78
Punt Return Success Rate 55
Kick Return Success Rate 43
Punt Success Rate 72
Kickoff Success Rate 15

9. Gonzalez has a cannon

Zane Gonzalez only made four of 10 field goals of 40-plus yards; that he was asked to attempt 10 of them, and that he managed an incredible 75 percent touchback rate on kickoffs (and underrated asset), prove that he's got all the leg strength you need. We'll see if he can harness that strength a bit more as a senior.

Gonzalez leads a solid special teams unit. Tim White is a dangerous kick return man, and given the option between being good at kickoffs and kick returns or punts and punt returns, ASU probably has it right here. There are plenty of kickoffs, in both ways, in Sun Devil games at the moment.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Northern Arizona NR 26.8 94%
10-Sep Texas Tech 43 0.6 51%
16-Sep at UTSA 116 13.4 78%
24-Sep California 49 2.4 56%
1-Oct at USC 8 -17.1 16%
8-Oct UCLA 12 -9.3 30%
15-Oct at Colorado 82 2.4 56%
22-Oct Washington State 48 2.2 55%
29-Oct at Oregon 18 -14.8 20%
10-Nov Utah 39 -0.6 49%
19-Nov at Washington 10 -16.8 17%
25-Nov at Arizona 64 -2.5 44%
Projected wins: 5.6
Five-Year F/+ Rk 21.2% (28)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 22 / 28
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 2 / -7.9
2015 TO Luck/Game +3.8
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 35% (27%, 43%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 6.3 (-0.3)

10. Restoring the risk-reward balance

I think Graham has proven too much to guess ASU's 2015 problems indicated deeper issues. And I think his Tulsa tenure is a nice reminder of the balance required when you're playing as aggressively as Graham wants.

In four years at Tulsa, Graham went 10-4, 11-2, 5-7, and 9-3. The three successful teams all ranked 54th or better in S&P+, and the iffy team slumped to 77th. But the Golden Hurricane rebounded. Graham's pedal-to-the-metal approach can lead to some crashes, but I like how he's been recruiting, and I think the long-term health of this program is still solid.

That said, it could easily take one more year before he rebounds. His offense will feature almost no seniors, and his defense might not feature any either. The upside will remain obvious, but the breakdowns might persist.

There are the bones of an excellent 2017 team here, but against a schedule that features four projected top-20 opponents and eight projected top-50s, there might be a few too many missteps to jump back up into the nine-win range. And with six games with a win probability between 49 and 56 percent, the luck of the bounce could make a significant impact on the overall record.