2011 Arizona State Preview
Arizona State RB Cameron Marshall
Arizona State RB Cameron Marshall
Posted Jul 9, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona State Sun Devils

Preview 2011

- 2011 Arizona State Preview | 2011 Arizona State Offense
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By Richard Cirminiello & Hod Rabino

Head coach: Dennis Erickson
5th year at ASU: 25-23
23rd year overall: 173-89-1
Returning Lettermen
Off. 25, Def. 26, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Arizona State Players
1. LB Vontaze Burfict, Jr.
2. RB Cameron Marshall, Jr.
3. C Garth Gerhart, Sr.
4. DE Junior Onyeali, Soph.
5. LB Brandon Magee, Sr.
6. WR Gerell Robinson, Sr.
7. DE Jamaar Jarrett, Sr.
8. WR Mike Willie, Sr.
9. QB Brock Osweiler, Jr.
10. SS Eddie Elder, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 1 UC Davis
Sep. 10 Missouri
Sep. 17 at Illinois
Sep. 24 USC
Oct. 1 Oregon State
Oct. 8 at Utah
Oct. 15 at Oregon
Oct. 29 Colorado
Nov. 5 at UCLA
Nov. 12 at Washington State
Nov. 19 Arizona
Nov. 26 California

All signs point to Arizona State's best season in four years. If it fails to deliver, the administration could point head coach Dennis Erickson to the exit sign in December.

After getting out of the gate quickly in 2007, Erickson has come up dry in the desert. The Sun Devils have missed the postseason the last three seasons, going just 11-21 versus FBS competition over that time. However, there's genuine reason for optimism in Tempe. Arizona State has considerable talent back on both sides of the ball and a slight tailwind at its back. The program impressed last November with consecutive wins over UCLA and Arizona following close losses to USC and Stanford. Plus, the Devils will enter the new era of the Pac-12 in a South Division that's there for the taking.

Arizona State will have a new leader on offense, gunslinger Brock Osweiler, who was under center for last season's final two victories. The 6-8 junior can reach any of the team's receiver, but he won't need to be the focal point of the attack. The Devils want to accentuate their backfield depth by running Cameron Marshall behind a veteran, Garth Gerhart-led line. The rotation of runners will be deep, especially if young Deantre Lewis can make a healthy return from an offseason gun-shot wound.

The defense suffered a devastating blow in April, when all-star CB Omar Bolden was lost to an ACL tear. An already sketchy pass defense is sure to be the unit's weakest link. It'll be up to the front seven to play up to—and beyond—its considerable potential. While the line lacks a true star, it has depth and the ability to collapse a pocket. At linebacker, the Sun Devils are loaded, with elite junior Vontaze Burfict pacing an athletic and seasoned group. Together, these two units must make life easier on that final line of defense.

No more excuses. Now that all of the stars are properly aligned, Arizona State is in the unfamiliar position of expecting to go bowling and even competing for the first-ever Pac-12 South crown. A higher bar can be a tricky thing. On the one hand, it's an indication that a program is beginning to earn some respect. On the other hand, it could haunt the coach who's unable to reach it.

What to watch for on offense: Run Devils. While Arizona State conjures up images of high-flying passing attacks, this year's edition will lean more on the ground game. Now, coordinator Noel Mazzone will occasionally turn loose QB Brock Osweiler, whose quality set of receivers includes veterans Gerell Robinson, Mike Willie, and Aaron Pflugrad. However, the Sun Devils plan to leverage their depth and talent in the backfield. There's a complimentary mix that includes every-down back Cameron Marshall, scatback Kyle Middlebrooks, and burner Deantre Lewis. ASU needs to shift the time of possession, while reducing its number of mistakes through the air.

What to watch for on defense: The run D to remain stout. Opposing teams managed only 119 yards a game and 3.2 yards a carry versus the Pac-10's toughest run defense. Running lanes won't be any less congested this fall. The Sun Devils lose little from a year ago, even adding sophomore DT Will Sutton from the ranks of the academic suspended. The front seven is loaded, boasting ample depth in the trenches and outstanding playmakers at the second level. At middle linebacker, Vontaze Burfict is a 252-pound guided missile, who cleans up messes as well as any player at his position in the country.

The team will be far better if … the Sun Devils become more efficient in the red zone. Yeah, the team averaged 32 points a game a year ago, but that number could have been significantly higher if the offense produced in the red zone. Arizona State scored touchdowns on just slightly more than half of its trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line to rank 93rd nationally. The program dropped four games by four points or fewer, which could have gone the other way had the offense been crisper when it mattered most.

The Schedule: The Sun Devils could be the sneaky-good team of 2011 with so much returning talent and experience, but they'll be tested immediately. Coming off the opener against UC Davis, ASU has national statement games against Missouri and at Illinois that could show just how for real the team is. No matter what happens in the non-conference games, being ready to hit the Pac 12 ground running is a must with USC in the opener and a home game against Oregon State to follow. Four of the next five conference games are on the road, so 2-0 in conference play is vital to have any hope of being in the South race. Not only is the mid-section of the season a bear because of the road games, but it's made worse by back-to-back trips to Utah and Oregon before getting a desperately needed week off. On the plus side, the year closes out with an easy road date at Washington State before getting Arizona and Cal at home.

Best Offensive Player: Junior RB Cameron Marshall. As a sophomore, Marshall seized control of the Sun Devils running game in 2010. A powerful between-the-tackles runner, who gets faster as he builds a head of steam, he ran for 787 yards and nine scores on 150 carries. He's also an effective receiver on swing passes, catching 21 passes for 227 yards and a score. The only thing that'll keep him from cracking the 1,000-yard mark will be teammates Kyle Middlebrooks and Deantre Lewis, who'll command touches as well.

Best Defensive Player: Junior LB Vontaze Burfict. As good as advertised, when he was a local can't-miss recruit, Burfict has evolved into a beast at middle linebacker. An imposing run stopper, with outstanding range and closing speed, it almost seems as if he's moving too fast for a chiseled 6-3, 252-pounder. As a second-year player, he chalked up a team-high 90 tackles and eight stops for loss, rarely getting cheated on his hits. One of the most physical tacklers in the country, he'll deploy the other guy's airbags upon impact. The upcoming season is expected to be his final pro audition before taking his nastiness to Sundays.

Key players to a successful season: Junior CB Deveron Carr. From the moment Omar Bolden suffered his serious knee injury in the spring, Carr instantly became one of the most important Sun Devils of 2011. Although he won't be Bolden, that doesn't mean he'll be picked on either. Before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury last fall, he was on his way to becoming one of the school's top young cover corners. No longer a complement in the secondary, he's being asked to bolster a pass defense that's the single biggest question mark of the upcoming season.

The season will be a success if ... the Sun Devils win the Pac-12 South. While it may seem daunting for a school that hasn't even produced a winning season in four years, this might be its best chance for a title for some time. The only team in the division with more talent is USC, and the Trojans aren't eligible for the crown this season. Plus, Arizona State gets Troy and rival Arizona in Tempe, which sets it up nicely to represent one-half of the conference in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Dec. 3.

Key game: Nov. 19 vs. Arizona. The annual battle for the Territorial Cup could have a unique twist in 2011, with the winner possibly wrapping up the Pac-12 South. The 2010 edition was a double-overtime classic in Tucson, and the last three games in Tempe were decided by a field goal. It's been a few years since the Wildcats and the Sun Devils both had Top 25 aspirations at the same time, adding a little extra juice to this year's clash.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Interceptions thrown: Arizona State 17 – Opponents 12
- Time of possession: Arizona State 27:18 – Opponents 33:56
- Points per game: Arizona State 32.2 - Opponents 25.0

- 2011 Arizona State Preview | 2011 Arizona State Offense
- 2011 Arizona State Defense | 2011 Arizona State Depth Chart