Arizona State Sun Devils
Recommendation: Under 5 wins (-135 @5Dimes)
The Dennis Erickson era ended with a thud last season as Arizona State’s lofty preseason expectations eroded into a 6-7 record which culminated with an embarrassing 56-24 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Ex-Tulsa and Pittsburgh head coach Todd Graham takes over the program which is heading into this fall camp much differently than last season. Unlike last August, when droves of college football followers were jumping on the ASU bandwagon and proclaiming them top 25 material, this summer is filled with skeptics and zero talk of a PAC-12 South title.
There are numerous reasons for the mass exodus of national support for this team but there are four in particular that have me feeling the Sun Devils will likely win even less games than last season.
Offensively it seems as if Arizona State is trying to jam the old square peg into a round hole by currently listing sophomore Mike Bercovici as their no. 1 quarterback heading into this campaign. Bercovici is a pure pocket passer in Graham’s run oriented spread option which obviously isn’t a perfect fit. Redshirt freshman Michael Eubank (6-5, 240 lbs) is a highly touted, extremely mobile signal caller who has the credentials for this scheme but figures to need time before he’s proficient at running this offense. State will be a run heavy offense because they have a stable of top flight runners but the passing game with very little quarterback and reciever experience limits their diversity.
It is also widely speculated around Tempe that maybe Graham isn’t quite the caliber of offensive genius he’s thought to be. With Mike Norvell as his offensive coordinator last season at Pittsburgh, the results were not anywhere near what they were during Graham’s Tulsa tenure with gurus Gus Malzahn and then Chad Morris. Even in 2006, Graham’s 2006 Rice team posted huge numbers with up-and-coming OC Major Applewhite. It should be noted that Graham’s true prowess is as a defensive coach so Norvell who comes with the tag of a “spread” aficionado is the coach who is really in question here. ASU’s offense isn’t much different personnel wise from that of Pitt’s last season except at running back depth. When game changer Ray Graham got hurt, they had no one else to pick up the slack whereas ASU can go three deep easily. I don’t know if that’s enough though to help Norvell’s offense put up big numbers.
The defense will also be new and perhaps troublesome because there’s going to be so much for this unit to learn. Co-defensive coordinators Paul Randolph and Ron West want the base defense to be interchangeable due to situation. ASU will run 4-3, 3-4 and 3-3-5 looks which means a lot of playbook to digest and a lot of different personnel groupings. Expect the philosophy to pay great dividends in the future but for this season, the learning curve for both the players and coaches makes consistent and positive production difficult. Randolph and West do inherit the addition by subtraction bonus of departed linebacker Vontez Burfict and six other former starters whose propensity for freelancing and undisciplined play cost the 2011 squad immensely.
ASU’s schedule might not appear overly difficult at first glance but finding five games where they are more than a 50/50 shot to win is a tough task. Only home games versus Northern Arizona and Washington State seem like wins you can count on while the road presents only Colorado as a chance at victory. Three Thursday games along with one Friday contest could also be disruptive to the consistency of the practice schedule this season which can’t be considered helpful with so much change. This seems like a good situation to capitalize on by playing the season win total under.
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