Rant Sports 100 in 100 College Football Previews: No. 65 Arizona State

Today we are only two months away from the kickoff to the 2012 college football season.  The countdown continues as Rant Sports ranks the 100 best teams going in.  Today we preview the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Arizona State finds themselves searching once again for a ladder to take them back to the top of the Pac-12 mountain.  The Sun Devils can claim only three double digit win seasons over the past 26 years.  Not exactly elite status.  Dennis Erickson looked like the catalyst for change in the right direction after he posted 10 victories during his inaugural year in Tempe back in 2007.  However, in the four seasons after, Erickson failed to garner more than six wins.  Enter new head coach from Pittsburgh Todd Graham.

Impact Players

Offense

Running back Cameron Marshall and receiver Jamal Myers will have to play a big role in Graham’s fast paced spread offense.  The two returning seniors headline an offensive unit that is spotty on both talent and experience.  Marshall had over 1,000 yards in 2011 to go along with 18 touchdowns.  Jamal Miles is coming off a 60 reception season but must fill-in for the departed Gerell Robinson who was picked up as a free agent by the Broncos.

At the quarterback position it’s good news bad news.  The good news is that personnel exist who have the ability to captain Graham’s passing attack.  The bad news?  None of the quarterbacks Graham has to choose from have any experience.  Just like Robinson, 2011 star quarterback Brock Osweiler is a Bronco.

Just which young signal caller will step up is not certain.  Sophomores  Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly were used in mop up duty last year.  Both competed in spring ball for the starting gig along with redshirt freshman Michael Eubanks.  Graham told Fox Sports Arizona he is in no hurry to name a starter.

The Devils offensive line is projected to have two returning starters in junior tackle Evan Finkenberg and senior guard Andrew Sampson.  There will be plenty of pressure on the offensive line to gel early as the quarterback (whoever it is) will need plenty of time to adjust to the no-huddle offense.

Defense

Paul Randolf and Ron West will co-coordinate the defensive unit that will attack with a 3-4 scheme.  Similar to the offensive side of the ball, experience is in short order for the Devils.  Both defense ends are returning starters, Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali.  A lot is expected of senior Brandon Magee who has big shoes to fill as Vontaze Burfict is now a Cincinnati Bengal.

The ugly news on defense is that the four linebacker spots will have zero returning starters.  Although Magee is the most heralded of the unit, he must rebound from a ruptured Achilles’s tendon that cost him the 2011 season.

A bright spot for ASU is in the defensive secondary as both cornerbacks Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr return as starters.  Irabor, a junior, looked extremely capable in spring practice.  Safety Alden Darby is the defense’s leading returning tackler in the projected stating unit.

Schedule

Arizona State did themselves no favor by scheduling non-conference games with Illinois and at Missouri.  The first game of the season on September 1 is opposite FCS school Northern Arizona in Sun Devil Stadium.

 The conference opens with Utah at home followed by winnable road games at Cal and Colorado.  The Devils tangle with, Oregon in Tempe, which will be the toughest draw out of the North Division October 18.  After Oregon ASU has UCLA at home and will travel to Corvallis November 3.  The following week will be the most difficult challenge of 2012, at USC.  The regular season ends with a home game against Washington State and in-state rival Arizona.

Unfortunately there are more questions than answers for ASU going into 2012.  Coach Graham must find the answers, because 2011 ended with five consecutive losses including a plastering by Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.  Unless new names can make an impact, a bowl appearance is unlikely for Sparky.

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