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.
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.
|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
|5-Sep||vs. Texas A&M||34||17-38||L||29%||4%||-21.8||-17.5|
|7-Nov||at Washington State||54||24-38||L||45%||19%||-11.1||-11.5|
|2-Jan||vs. West Virginia||31||42-43||L||66%||42%||+9.6||0.0|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||102||1st Down Rk||67|
|Q2 Rk||63||2nd Down Rk||87|
|Q3 Rk||70||3rd Down Rk||28|
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.
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|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.
|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|
|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|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|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|
|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|
|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.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Christian Westerman||LG||13||25||2015 2nd All-Pac-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|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||24||1st Down Rk||52|
|Q2 Rk||22||2nd Down Rk||40|
|Q3 Rk||54||3rd Down Rk||112|
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.
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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?
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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.
|Matt Haack||6'1, 199||Sr.||74||43.1||2||13||29||56.8%|
|Zane Gonzalez||6'1, 190||Sr.||88||64.2||66||2||75.0%|
|Zane Gonzalez||6'1, 190||Sr.||52-52||22-24||91.7%||4-10||40.0%|
|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|
|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.
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|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.