CFN Preview 2013 - Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly
Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly
Posted May 24, 2013 2013 Preview - Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona State Sun Devils

Preview 2013

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- 2013 Arizona State Defense | 2013 Arizona State Depth Chart
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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Todd Graham Second year: 8-5
Returning Lettermen
Off. 23, Def. 26, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best ASU Players
. DT Will Sutton, Sr.
2. DE/OLB Carl Bradford, Jr.
3. QB Taylor Kelly, Jr.
4. RB Marion Grice, Sr.
5. S Alden Darby, Sr.
6. LB Chris Young, Sr.
7. TE Chris Coyle, Sr.
8. CB Osahon Irabor, Sr.
9. RB D.J. Foster, Soph.
10. DT Jaxon Hood, Soph.
2013 Schedule
9/7 Sacramento State
9/14 Wisconsin
9/21 at Stanford
9/28 USC
10/5 Notre Dame
10/12 Colorado
10/19 Washington
10/31 at Washington State
11/9 at Utah
11/16 Oregon State
11/23 at UCLA
11/30 Arizona
The assimilation is complete. This is Todd Graham's team.

Last season in Tempe was all about adjusting; getting accustomed to a new coaching staff, a new quarterback and new schemes on both sides of the ball. This season, Arizona State plans to take what it learned during 2012 and raise it a notch or two in 2013.

The Sun Devils were a decent team last fall. But their 8-5 record sort of masked the fact that they only defeated two other teams that bowled, rival Arizona and Navy in a Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl mismatch. Since those victories closed out the season, and since so many starters return, the program is not going to be content this year with eight wins or a no-name bowl game.

Arizona State believes it's ready to compete for a Pac-12 South championship, with a third-ever Rose Bowl appearance underlined in red ink on the to-do list. The Sun Devils are as loaded as they've been in years, with all-star talent on both sides of the line. In fact, of the 15 players who earned at least honorable mention all-league last fall, a healthy 10 remain in Tempe.

A balanced offense will be spearheaded by one of the Pac-12's best backfields. At this time last year, the college resumes of QB Taylor Kelly and running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster were virtually blank sheets of paper. As the 2013 season approaches, though, each member of the trio is a proven versatile playmaker who'll be even better with a full season of snaps in the bank. Kelly does need more help this season, both from his receivers and his pass protectors.

The defense received a huge—and unexpected—break when All-American DT Will Sutton decided to forego the 2013 NFL Draft, and return to school. He presents major headaches for opposing linemen, and he's going to get a lot of help from the likes of hybrid ‘Devil' Carl Bradford, DT Jaxon Hood and ‘Spur' Chris Young. Arizona State will dictate the tempo of games with its speed and intensity. But sometimes, they're a little too aggressive for their own good, over pursuing plays, which results in gaping holes in run defense. The Devils have to be suffocating in more than just non-conference games in 2013, maintaining their tenacity in the face of some of the Pac-12's more potent offenses.

On paper, Graham is the head of the best Arizona State squad since at least 2007. The players are determined to prove their potential on grass as well. The Pac-12 South is up for grabs in 2013. The Sun Devils and their second-year coach are poised to take advantage with a talented team that's ready to take the next step.

What to watch for on offense: The battle for playing time at wide receiver. Yeah, the Sun Devils like to employ their running backs, tight ends and H-backs in the passing game, but the offense is still looking for more production from the wideouts. The receivers are a marginal group right now, led by journeyman Kevin Ozier. However, touted junior college transfer Jaelen Strong and rookies Ellis Jefferson and Cameron Smith will be given every opportunity to win a starting job once they arrive on campus in the summer.

What to watch for on defense: Sophomore DT Jaxon Hood to be the chief beneficiary of all of the attention that the rest of the line receives. Opposing blockers will naturally focus on Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, who combined for 24.5 sacks a year ago. Hood, though, showed last season and again in the spring that he has the talent, the motor and the want-to to flourish as a gap-busting interior lineman. He won't get nearly as much notoriety as Sutton or Hood, but the sophomore will post impressive numbers as an unheralded component of the Arizona State pass rush.

The team will be far better if … the defense shows up in the most important outings of the year. Arizona State lost five games in 2012, allowing an average of 37 points in those defeats. Those performances were in stark contrast to the balance of the schedule, in which the Sun Devils sported one of the Pac-12's stingiest defenses. During a four-game, midseason losing streak, ASU got trucked on the ground and through the air by the likes of Oregon, UCLA and USC. If this program is serious about moving up a rung on the league ladder, it'll need to play tighter D in the games that impact the divisional race.

The Schedule: The Sun Devils need to be ready to rock and roll by mid-September after starting the season a week late and warming up Sacramento State. Wisconsin comes into Tempe in what could be a tone-setting showdown, and it doesn't get any easier with the Pac-12 season starting out at Stanford followed up by USC and a battle with Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas. That means ASU faces three teams that played in BCS games in a four-week stretch, and USC is hardly a breather.

Everyone should be able to take a breath with Colorado coming to town after the date with the Irish, and if they can get by Washington the week after, with a bye week and winnable road games against Washington State and Utah coming up next, there's a good chance to go on a good run before hosting Oregon State. Going to UCLA and finishing up against Arizona will go a long way to determining the South pecking order.

Best Offensive Player: Junior QB Taylor Kelly. It's funny what live action and an opportunity can do for a quarterback. To many, Kelly was an afterthought last season in the race to replace Brock Osweiler behind center. However, when given a chance to run the offense, he was exactly what the Sun Devils sought in a quarterback. Kelly finished No. 9 nationally in pass efficiency, completing 241-of-359 passes for 3,039 yards, 29 touchdowns and only nine picks. He also chipped in 516 yards and a score on the ground, showing a knack for prolonging plays with his feet. Kelly is accurate, versatile and makes good decisions. He's also the kind of leader ASU needs behind center.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DT Will Sutton. Sutton ought to be cashing large paychecks and beginning his ascent up some NFL team's depth chart. Instead, he's going to terrorize college guards and centers, most of who will have no chance of containing his combination of explosiveness, tenacity and first-step quickness. The 6-1, 288-pound dynamo blew up in 2012 for 63 tackles, Pac-12 highs with 23.5 stops for loss and 13 sacks, five passes defended and three forced fumbles. Double-teams were common, yet ineffective at keeping him out of the backfield. Sutton has the tools and the motivation to be one of the nation's best defensive players of 2013.

Key player to a successful season: LB Steffon Martin. No, no single player is going to solve Arizona State's problems against the run, but Martin sure could help the situation with a breakout final year. The Sun Devils are perpetually in attack mode. But Martin is one of the exceptions, a 6-1, 236-pounder, with the strong base to help anchor the run D. Despite 10 starts in his first year out of Arizona Western College, he was largely ineffective. However, the staff feels as if he's had the kind of offseason that portends a quantum leap in productively. Fingers are crossed, because the run defense is pining for more help from the second level.

The season will be a success if ... the Sun Devils win the Pac-12 South. Okay, so it's not exactly Pasadena or bust, but Arizona State is as talented as any other team in the division. And when a player of Sutton's caliber returns for one more year, a team has to make the most out of that gift. Arizona State gets USC and Arizona at home, and Oregon is not on the schedule. ASU doesn't get this close to the league penthouse very often, so it has to capitalize with a team that's good enough to play 14 games in 2013.

Key game: Sept. 28 vs. USC. For so many reasons, this is the bellwether game of the year for the Sun Devils. It impacts the South Division race and the psyche of program that's lost 12 of the last 13 meetings to the Trojans. Lose in front of an electrified home crowd in Tempe, and expectations are going to plummet by Sunday morning. Win and Arizona State might spend the rest of the year as the hunted team in the quest to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Points per game: Arizona State 38.4 – Opponents 24.3
- Yards per play: Arizona State 6.0 – Opponents 4.8
- Sacks: Arizona State 53 - Opponents 37
- 2013 Arizona State Preview | 2013 Arizona State Offense
- 2013 Arizona State Defense | 2013 Arizona State Depth Chart