One year ago, uncertainty loomed over the ASU football program. Questions were raised about the offense and team culture and jokes were made about how long Graham would stay in Tempe before jumping for another job.
Fast forward to today, and it is safe to the many of those questions were answered. The Devils ended the year with an 8-5 record, they found a solid replacement under center for Brock Osweiler in Taylor Kelly, the defense was among the best in the country, Will Sutton emerged as an offensive coordinator’s nightmare and the Devils stopped talking about excuses and started speaking victory.
The 2012 season success could just be a steppingstone to 2013 and beyond.
Huge questions swirled around the quarterback entering this season. Many assumed Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank were the frontrunners to replace Brock Osweiler, but Taylor Kelly impressed Graham in spring ball and won the starting job. Kelly was a consistent distributor. He set records for completion percentage and nearly had three touchdowns for every interception he threw.
The most reliable target in the passing game was tight end Chris Coyle. The junior, who only had 6 receptions entering 2012, caught 57 balls, a single-season record for receptions by a Tight End. Not bad seeing as NFL studs Todd Heap and Zach Miller came from ASU and Coyle did this as a junior.
Surprises in the running game emerged in the 2012 season. First the good, then the bad:
Freshman D.J. Foster had a great first year for the Devils, wracking up over 1,000 total yards. JUCO transfer Marion Grice had a nose for the end zone, crossing the goal line 19 times.
Production from these two backs meant a limited role from workhorse Cameron Marshall. The senior had his touchdown production get cut in half from 18 to 9 and the 1,000 yard rusher in 2011 amassed only 603 rushing yards in 2012.
Who Will Replace Them?
The Sun Devils lose Marshall and a pair of receivers in Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross. They will also lose the starting right side of their offensive line in guard Andrew Sampson and tackle Bryce Schwab.
The top candidates to replace Miles and Ross are Kevin Ozier, Richard Smith, and Alonzo Agwuenu. Ozier and Agwuenu provide big targets and Smith is dangerous in the open field.
ASU commit and JUCO transfer Jaelen Strong could also make an instant-impact when he makes his way to Tempe. The 6’4” receiver is a blazer, he runs a 4.4 40-yard dash, and he put up over 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns at Pierce College in California.
Offensive tackle Christian Westerman is transferring from Auburn to ASU and could help anchor the offensive line this upcoming season. Typically, transfers must sit out one year, but if Auburn gets put on probation by the NCAA for recruiting sanctions, Westerman could play immediately. The Hamilton High School grad was a five star recruit and ranked #2 tackle in the country by ESPN when he came out of high school.
Look for this offense to not miss a beat from the 62 points they put up against Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The offense returns their starting quarterback, two very productive running backs, a record-setting tight end and a good chunk of their offensive line.
Graham’s attack defense put the Devils second in the PAC-12 in total defense and second in the country in sacks. All-American Will Sutton led the way, winning the PAC-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year and will be making his to decision to stay for his senior year of go to the NFL around January 15th.
The linebackers were strong as well. Brandon Magee led the way, racking up over 100 tackles, putting him second in the PAC-12 in that category. Carl Bradford and Chris Young were both pleasant surprises. Bradford ended the year with 11.5 sacks and ran around the field like a banshee taking down opponents. Young, #21, replicated the #21 from last year, Colin Parker. Both entered the season looking to just find the field, but both ended up added stability and consistency to the defense.
The Devils also featured the top pass defense in the PAC-12, partly due to the pressure applied by the front seven, but a more consistent secondary helped as well. Keelan Johnson was playing like a man on fire, specifically in the second half of the season. Johnson had two picks in each of his final two PAC-12 games, and also came up with a huge strip on Matt Scott that completely turned the momentum against U of A. Better play by Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor, and Deveron Carr made this unit have huge strides throughout the year.
Who They Will Lose:
The Devils lose a little bit more on the defensive side of the ball than the offensive side. Brandon Magee has already signed a contract to play Major League Baseball with the Boston Red Sox and will most likely get drafted to the NFL come April. Keelan Johnson and Deveron Carr are both seniors as well.
The X-factor will be whether Will Sutton comes back for his senior year. Sutton was a consensus All-American and PAC-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year, but some NFL scouts are saying he is undersized and when asked about what he has left to achieve at the collegiate level, Sutton said two words: “Rose Bowl”.
No one could knock Sutton for going pro. He has the numbers and the awards. If he does go, the Devils will have to find someone to replace him as the disruptor up the middle. Sutton missed two games this year: Oregon and a good chunk of UCLA. This defense looked very different without Sweet Tea Willie anchoring that defensive line and both offenses had no problem scoring points. If he does leave, Jaxon Hood seems to be the logical choice to replace him. Hood enters his sophomore season with plenty of experience under his belt as he found the field early and often as a true freshman this year.
Someone will also have to step into the vocal leader role Brandon Magee held. He was the heart and soul of that defense and was able to right the ship if the defense got off course.
Who Will Replaces Them?
Blue Ridge High School linebacker Chans Cox could replace Magee as early as next year. Cox has already been drawing comparisons to Sun Devil great Terrell Suggs, but there are questions about how Cox will play against top talent he played in Division IV and rarely saw the best Arizona had to offer. Carlos Mendoza could also find time in the middle. The linebacker impressed in just three games. He had two interceptions against Illinois while filling in for Magee, who was out with a concussion. Mendoza injured his shoulder after returning his second interception of the game and was out for the rest of the season. Graham loved Mendoza’s motor and look for him to be in the mix to be Magee’s replacement.
Marcos de Niza safety Priest Willis, who some say could be the top high school player in Arizona this year, could be coming to Tempe. He is being recruited heavily by the Devils along with LSU, Florida State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Florida and many, many others. He is very close with his family and likes what Graham and the new coaching staff is doing in Tempe, which could mean great news for Sun Devil fans. If he joins the Sun Devils, Willis could replace Keelan Johnson or Deveron Carr depending on how Graham wants to use him. Recently, experts have said Willis is leaning towards LSU, but we will only know when Signing Day comes around.
Jayme Otomewo is another big-time recruit coming in that could help the secondary. The safety out of Dorsey High School in Los Angeles was a Semper Fidelis All-American and could help with the depth in the secondary.
Ezekial Bishop was a promising recruit to Dennis Erickson, but has had durability issues in his first two seasons. If he could stay on the field, the Devils could have some depth in the secondary, a luxury they didn’t have this past year. Also, look for Robert Nelson to get more playing time at corner after getting two interceptions in his final two games.
It will be interesting to see who Todd Graham gives the nod to at kicker. Jon Mora took over field goal duties from Alex Garoutte midway through the season, but Garoutte still handled kickoffs and extra points, where he missed only one extra point all year, and that occurred against Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Will Graham give full kicking duties to Mora, continue to split time between Mora and Garoutte, or will big-legged Dillon Johnson break onto the scene and find some field time? If last years spring ball and Camp Tontazona stints proved anything, it probably means the job will be won in practice and all candidates have a shot.
Who they will lose:
The Devils have a huge hole to fill at punter. Josh Hubner was absolutely phenomenal this year. Hubner averaged 47.1 yards per punt, which puts him second in the nation in that category. Hubner, along with Keelan Johnson, will be playing in The East-West Shrine Game. It is safe to say Hubner will get drafted, if not invited to quite a few training camps for his big leg.
Who replaces him?
It isn’t completely out of the ordinary to have one of the kickers named above to double up as a punter, but ASU has also got a big punting commitment from Matt Haack from Des Moines, Iowa.
The Sun Devils return plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball. The defense will have to fill some big holes defensively left from Brandon Magee, Deveron Carr, and Keelan Johnson. Of course the landscape of the team will be affected dramatically after January 15th, the deadline for Will Sutton to decide whether to go to the NFL or stay for his senior season, and February 6th, National Signing Day.
No matter what recruits Graham and his staff will land, or whether Will Sutton will stay or go, the Devils return plenty of talent to build on success in the 2013 season.
This entry was posted on Saturday, January 5th, 2013 at 6:00 PM and is filed under Ridin' The Pine. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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