Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Pac-12 offseason was filled with the hiring of big name coaches and that trend was felt in Tempe. Arizona State hired Todd Graham, who was at Pittsburgh last season, to take over after a disappointing five-year run under Dennis Erickson.
Last season was filled with promise for the Sun Devils. The squad entered the season as dark horses in the conference and opened the season with a pair of wins at home including a 37-30 overtime thriller against Missouri. A disappointing 17-14 loss on the road to Illinois followed, but the Sun Devils responded with three straight wins, including a dominating 43-22 win over USC. At that point Arizona State rose to No. 18 in the polls. From there though, the season derailed as the Sun Devils went just 1-5 to finish out the regular season.
At 6-6 Arizona State earned a bowl bid, but the Sun Devils were dominated by Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl 56-24. The 6-7 overall record marked the third losing record during Erickson's tenure after he pushed the team to 10-3 in his first season at the helm, a level of success he was never able to duplicate leading to the Graham hiring.
OFFENSE: It will be difficult for Graham to immediately install his no-huddle spread offense without a proven commodity under center.
With Brock Osweiler gone to the professional ranks there is no quarterback on the roster that has made a start in college. Mike Bercovici is considered the favorite to start the season but Taylor Kelly and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank could also be in the mix.
"We don't need any newcomer quarterbacks. We want guys that are seasoned veterans as far as their decision making, and that's a position that we've got good talent to work with," Graham said of his group of quarterbacks.
The running back position is much more established with the return of senior Cameron Marshall. Marshall rushed for 1,050 yards last season and also had 18 rushing touchdowns. He will be recovering from mild ankle surgery but that is not expected to slow him.
Jamal Miles is an undersized receiver but is the most experienced on the roster. He is a good possession pass catcher (60 receptions, 361 yards) and is also a threat on reverses out of the backfield (237 rushing yards in 2011). Juniors J.J. Holliday and Kevin Ozier will be the other starters.
The offensive line has two returning starters in right guard Andrew Sampson and left tackle Evan Finkenberg. Right tackle Brice Schwab is also a senior and has a good deal of experience.
DEFENSE: The defense is largely gutted from last season which may be good news for a squad that ranked 91st in the nation in total defense in 2011.
Although not technically a returning starter since he missed the whole season to a ruptured Achilles tendon, linebacker Brandon Magee is back in the middle to lead a thin linebacking unit. In 2010 Magee was second to only Vontaze Burfict in tackles with 73 while also chipping in five tackles for loss. The rest of the linebacking ranks is less proven with juniors Kipeli Koniseti and Anthony Jones as well as sophomore Carl Bradford figuring to take on major roles.
Under new defensive coordinator Paul Randolph, the Sun Devils will go with a three-man front which has a pair of promising junior defensive ends with experience in Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali. Sutton had 33 total tackles and 5.5 for a loss in 2011 while Onyeali had only 11 total tackles but 1.5 sacks in a more limited role.
The secondary is set at corner with returning starters Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr. Irabor had 48 total tackles last season, while Carr finished with 45 although Irabor had the only interception between the two. Alden Darby will also return but this time as the starter after compiling 51 total tackles and three interceptions in 2011.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Miles' speed make him a dangerous threat in the return game. He averaged a hefty 26.3 yards per kickoff return and 16.6 yards per punt return while scoring three touchdowns off returns.
Despite and inconsistent 2011 season in which he went 15-for-22 on field goals attempts, Alex Garoutte will be the starting place-kicker while Josh Hubner will attempt to improve on his 41.3 yards-per-punt average from last season.
OUTLOOK: Going into last season, optimism was high for an Arizona State team that had the roster to really contend in the Pac-12. This season the roster is less star-studded, but intrigue still remains with the hiring of Graham.
The former Tulsa head coach will make his first appearance on the sidelines for Arizona State when the Sun Devils take on Northern Arizona to begin the 2012 season. That matchup is followed by a home game against Illinois and a road contest against Missouri. Pac-12 play opens in week four at home against Utah before back-to-back road games against California and Colorado. Consecutive home bouts with Oregon and UCLA takes the squad into November when the Sun Devils play three of their final four games on the road.
Graham's first foray into the BCS conference ranks didn't fare as well as hoped but the 6-7 mark his Pittsburgh squad finished with matched that of his new team. There are some playmakers on the roster in Tempe, but a big question mark at quarterback will hold the Sun Devils back.