Thursday, July 13, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State Sun Devils
Change is coming to Tempe in the form of a new OC and DC in Billy Napier and Phil Bennett. Something has got to give as the Sun Devils are coming off of back to back losing seasons. The message is clear this fall, win, or be gone for head coach Todd Graham, who has never gotten close to winning a PAC-12 title during his tenure in the Phoenix burbs. Graham enters year six, and if something does not change, it will be his last.
UPDATE: Arizona State played in the 2013 PAC-12 South title game, which they lost to Stanford 38-14.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Manny Wilkins can certainly put the ball up for the Devils, but can he do so consistently and accurately? That will be his biggest challenge in 2017 after he tossed 12 TDs, but also added nine INTs to his totals last fall. He did average 232 yards per game passing, so he absolutely can move the ball at times, and that will be important.
Kalen Ballage runs like a human wrecking ball at times, and could be the key to getting the Sun Devils where they need to be this season. He is a power runner who ran for 14 scores last season, but he will run in a combo package with Demario Richard. Neither back, on his own, is a hige threat, but together, they can do some damage.
N'Keal Harry caught 58 passes last season in more of a slot role, and will return to tlead the receivers this fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The offensive line returns only two starters from a unit that already was not very good last fall. Sam Jones returns at LG, while Quinn Bailey returns at RT.
Harry is the only returning starter in the starting receiver group. John Humphrey and Jalen Harvey will start at the two open spots, but Harvey caught just 21 passes last season, and Humphrey is transferring in. They form an unknown in a piece of the offense that is necessary for the team to push forward.
Losing PK Zane Gonzalez is painful after he hit 23/25 FGs last season. Brandon Ruiz, a freshman, is trying his hand at the job in camp.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
As bad as the defense was last season, a building block exists on the line, as two of three starters return in DE JoJo Wicker and DT Tashon Smallwood. They combined for 20 TFLs last fall, and should be a force to be reckoned with up front and on the edge.
Koron Crump and DJ Calhoun also return at LB. Calhoun led the team with 11.5 TFLs, and also with 77 tackles last season. Crump finished with just 37 tackles as a sophomore, but should mature in the system this fall as a junior.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The secondary was a major problem area last fall, and only one starter returns this season in S Marcus Ball. He finished second on the team with 64 tackles, but was not much to worry about in pass coverage. Chase Lucas, a freshman, projects to start at CB along with Chad Adams, a senior. J'Marcus Rhodes, a senior who was strictly a reserve last season, will start at the open Safety spot.
The Punting job is also open, with Michael Sleep-Dalton slated to give it a try.
2017 Schedule: 8/31 New Mexico State, 9/9 San Diego State, 9/16 at Texas Tech, 9/23 Oregon, 9/30 at Stanford, 10/14 Washington, 10/21 at Utah, 10/28 USC, 11/4 Colorado, 11/11 at UCLA, 11/18 at Oregon State, 11/25 Arizona
The good news is that I see the Sun Devils as having more talent on hand than Arizona, so the Devils should rise above Arizona for 5th in the PAC-12 South. As far as getting a better finish than that, well, it all depends on how bad UCLA is this season, but UCLA could finish with five wins, and still be ahead of the Sun Devils when all is said and done. The schedule is brutal until the final month, with exception to the opener, so it will all depend on how this team comes around with a new offensive and defensive mindset with new assistants all around. If they fail to gel, there will be an entirely new staff on campus for 2018.