And once again, new news trumps last week's news. This "Projecting..." series was supposed to include the new offenses at Arizona State, Kansas, etc., but for the second straight day a surprising hire cut in line. Whereas Arkansas State's hire of Gus Malzahn was surprising from a "He took a big pay cut a year after passing up a huge raise to coach Vanderbilt" standpoint, Arizona State's hire of Todd Graham was surprising more from an "I cannot believe they would tempt karma like this" perspective.
Graham now takes on his fourth head coaching job in six seasons (he spent one year at Rice, four years at Tulsa, one year at Pitt), broke up with his players via forwarded text message, and introduced himself to Tempe with basically a Mad Libs version of last year's introduction-to-Pittsburgh speech. He has, to say the least, not made the most wonderful impression with his actions of the last 24 hours, and he has made ASU's last vagabond coach (Dennis Erickson also had one-year coaching tenures at Wyoming and Idaho and a two-year tenure at Washington State) look like a model of loyalty and deep roots.
But this is football -- if Graham wins, all will be forgotten.
So ... will he win in a Pac-12 that has become more and more crowded with good coaches? Will he do a better job than June Jones, athletic director Lisa Love's original choice for the job (she was overruled by boosters, always a good sign of program stability), would have?
The Erickson-to-Graham shift in offensive philosophy is an interesting one. Their depth charts name mostly the same positions and use the same number of receivers, running backs, etc. But Graham is different in two almost conflicting ways: he is much more prone to attempting to spread out the defense, and he runs the ball quite a bit more.
In his time at Rice, Tulsa and Pitt, Graham's teams typically ran the ball at least 57 percent of the time on standard downs and 27 percent of the time on passing downs. This is still quite a bit more pass-heavy than the national average, but in comparison to Erickson's ASU offenses, RiceTulsaPitt resembled a service academy in their focus on the run. Only once in the last four years did Arizona State run more than 53 percent on standard downs, and they were consistently one of the most pass-heavy teams in the country on passing downs.
A shift to the run would probably cater nicely to Arizona State's personnel.
Brock Osweiler (6'8, 240, Sr.) -- 3,641 passing yards (7.1 per pass attempt, inc. sacks), 63% completion rate, 24 TD, 12 INT; 51 pre-sack rushes, 265 yards (5.2), plus-3.5 Adj. POE
Mike Bercovici (6'1, 205, So.) -or- Taylor Kelly (6'1, 202, So.)
Brock Osweiler is 6-foot-8. If you didn't know that, you didn't even watch five seconds of any Arizona State games this year. It didn't take long for announcers to share this tidbit, which is a shame because it masked the fact that Osweiler is also a pretty good quarterback. He is relatively nimble and elusive for his size -- he took just two sacks per game despite averaging over 40 pass attempts, and he averaged 5.2 yards per pre-sack carry. He also completed 63 percent of his passes. To match those numbers in 2011, however, he will have to probably dodge more oncoming pass rushers (his line must replace a lot) and find open targets among a mostly new receiving corps (three of his top four targets, and four of his top six, were seniors this year). He has his work cut out for him. Plus, it probably warrants mentioning that Pitt took by far the most sacks in the country in 2011. They were the only team to allow more than 50 sacks for the season. That was most likely because of the personnel at hand (then again, Tulsa was 118th in the same category in 2009), but good luck with that, Brock.
Cameron Marshall (5'11, 223, Sr.) -- 219 carries, 1,038 yards (4.7/carry), 1.9 Highlight Yds/Carry, +20.1 Adj. POE; 37 targets, 23 catches (62%), 192 receiving yards (5.2/target)
Kyle Middlebrooks (5'8, 175, Jr.) -- 42 carries, 150 yards (3.6), 1.1 Hlt Yds/Carry, -7.7 Adj. POE; 18 targets, 14 catches (78%), 96 yards (5.3)
Cam Marshall will be the most proven ASU weapon heading into the 2011 season. Despite a rather heavy load (he averaged over 20 touches per game) and a rather iffy line (ASU was 80th in Adj. Line Yards), Marshall showed a steadiness and consistency he had not previously possessed, and his Adj. POE figure suggests he was about three touchdowns better than the average back in 2011. Graham will likely feed him the ball even more in 2011.
Your Guess Is As Good As Mine
The major philosophical difference between Graham and Erickson comes in Graham's occasional uses of fullbacks and/or H-Backs. Such a position was not really part of the Erickson scheme. Tight ends were used almost entirely as blockers in Erickson's system, however, so a little-used tight end like Max Smith (first-string tight end Trevor Kohl was a senior) might make a reasonable transition to this position when needed.
Projected Two-Deep -- Wide Receiver
Jamal Miles (5'10, 183, Sr.) -- 85 targets, 60 catches (71%), 361 yards (4.2/target)
Rashad Ross (6'0, 164, Sr.) -- 29 targets, 17 catches (59%), 245 yards (8.4/target)
Kevin Ozier (6'0, 201, Jr.) -- 14 targets, 11 catches (79%), 169 yards (12.1/target)
A.J. Pickens (5'10, 176, Sr.) -- 13 targets, 10 catches (77%), 125 yards (9.6/target)
Chris Coyle (6'3, 235, Jr.) -- 9 targets, 6 catches (67%), 73 yards (8.1)
Jarrid Bryant (6'5, 180, Jr.) -- 1 target, 1 catch, 11 yards
Projected Two-Deep -- Tight End
Chris Coyle (6'3, 235, Jr..)
Max Smith (6'2, 248, Jr.)
One of the reasons people thought Arizona State would be a legitimate Pac-12 South contender in 2011 was their deep, experienced receiving corps. The major problem with experience, of course, is that it has a well-defined life cycle. Seniors Gerell Robinson, Mike Willie, Aaron Pflugrad and George Bell combined for well over half of Osweiler's targets in 2011, along with 2,401 receiving yards and a 62-percent catch rate; they are all gone, leaving behind a possession receiver in Jamal Miles and a few interesting, if little-used targets in Rashad Ross, Kevin Ozier and A.J. Pickens. Ozier managed to combine high efficiency (79-percent catch rate) with some solid explosiveness (15.4 yards per catch), though he did so in a pretty small sample size. Graham may run more than Erickson, but he still throws quite a bit, and some of these new names will need to provide a level of consistency they have not yet had the opportunity to show.
The tight end position will also probably be utilized in the passing game a bit more in Graham's offense (if for no other reason than it was almost never used by Erickson), and the role of Chris Coyle will be interesting to watch. Coyle was listed as a wide receiver in 2011, but he has a tight end's size ... and there are almost no other tight ends on the roster.
Projected Two-Deep -- Offensive Tackle
Evan Finkenberg (6'6, 292, Jr.) -- 19 career starts
Tyler Sulka (6'4, 270, So.) -- 1 career start
Jamil Douglas (6'4, 284, So.)
Kyle Johnson (6'7, 292, Sr.)
Projected Two-Deep -- Offensive Guard
Andrew Sampson (6'3, 300, Sr.) -- 21 career starts
Sil Ajawara (6'3, 297, So.)
Brice Schwab (6'7, 302, Sr.) -- 4 career starts (it appears he redshirted in 2011, though I am not 100% certain)
Vi Teofilo (6'3, 290, RSFr.)
Projected Two-Deep -- Center
Kody Koebensky (6'4, 300, Jr.)
Arizona State had an average offensive line in 2011, and like the other two teams I have profiled this week (Ohio State, Arkansas State), they head into 2012 with quite a void of experience. Of eight players with starting experience, five are gone after the Las Vegas Bowl, including multi-year starters Garth Gerhart (center), Dan Knapp (tackle) and Mike Marcisz (guard). In all, 99 of ASU's career 120 starts will need to be replaced.
Graham's first (and only) defense at Pittsburgh performed at a rather high level (26th in Def. F/+, an improvement over 35th in 2010), but he will struggle to perform at the same level with an Arizona State unit that ranked 60th in Def. F/+ in 2011 and might lose not only six senior starters, but also junior middle linebacker/psycho Vontaze Burfict. The ASU offense was often able to overcome defensive issues, at least over the first half of the season. If Marshall and the running game can get rolling, then they may be able to do the same in 2012. But if a combination of karma and inexperience, both on the line and in the receiving corps, play a role, Graham's first season may not finish any better than his 2011 season in Pennsylvania.