2014 CFN Preview - Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State RB D.J. Foster
Arizona State RB D.J. Foster
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 3, 2014


Preview 2014 - Todd Graham has done a great job so far, but there's more work to do. (Getty Images)


Arizona State Sun Devils

Preview 2014
 

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By Rich Cirminiello
 
- 2014 Arizona State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Todd Graham
3rd year: 18-9
9th year: 67-38
Returning Lettermen
Off. 19, Def. 14, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 28
Ten Best ASU Players
1. QB Taylor Kelly, Sr.
2. WR Jaelen Strong, Jr.
3. OT Jamil Douglas, Sr.
4. RB D.J. Foster, Jr.
5. FS Damarious Randall, Sr.
6. LB Salamo Fiso, Soph.
7. OG Christian Westerman, Jr.
8. DT Jaxon Hood, Jr.
9. DT Dalvon Stuckey, Jr.
10. PK Zane Gonzales, Soph
2014 Schedule

Aug. 28 Weber State
Sep. 6 at New Mexico
Sep. 13 at Colorado
Sep. 20 OPEN DATE
Sep. 25 UCLA
Oct. 4 at USC
Oct. 11 OPEN DATE
Oct. 18 Stanford
Oct. 25 at Washington
Nov. 1 Utah
Nov. 8 Notre Dame
Nov. 15 at Oregon State
Nov. 22 Washington St
Nov. 28 at Arizona

For the first time since becoming the head coach, Todd Graham needs to do a little rebuilding in Tempe.

Arizona State is coming off a breakthrough season in which it won 10 games, finished ranked No. 20 and represented the South Division in the Pac-12 title game. Staying hot, though, won't be so easy for the Sun Devils, which are parting with a handful of their top players, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Under Graham, ASU has attacked on defense, creating a constant flow of sacks, turnovers and big plays. The approach will be the same, especially after Graham hired longtime friend Keith Patterson to coordinate the D. The players carrying out the blueprint for mayhem, though, will be very different. Eight Sun Devils earned some level of All-Pac-12 honors in 2013. All eight are gone, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, which will force the staff to develop a whole new set of regulars between now and opening day.

ASU has excelled at signing and quickly implementing JUCO transfers into the system. It's a good thing, too, because the Sun Devils will need immediate reinforcements to complement returning veterans, such as DE Marcus Hardison, DT Jaxon Hood, LB Salamo Fiso and FS Damarious Randall. With so many newcomers set to descend upon campus, it's going to be a crucial summer for the defensive staff and the defensive personnel.

As the defense is busy finding its rhythm, the offense will be fine-tuning one of the Pac-12's elite attacks. No drop-off is expected from a Mike Norvell-coordinated attack that averaged almost 40 points a game last season. Dual-threat QB Taylor Kelly is back to commandeer the offense, with ample support from top receiver Jaelen Strong and versatile RB D.J. Foster. Plus, the O-line has a higher than usual ceiling now that Auburn transfer Christian Westerman has joined all-star Jamil Douglas on the left side.

The Sun Devils have momentum; first 10-win season in six years. First Pac-12 title game appearance. Back-to-back wins over rival Arizona, including last November's 58-21 rout. Keeping the momentum going in 2014, though, will require some heavy lifting on the defensive side of the ball. The D is essentially starting over, a year after allowing at least 30 points to seven different opponents. As Patterson's unit goes, so goes ASU's chances of repeating as the South Division champ in 2014.

What to watch for on offense: Full Nelson. QB Taylor Kelly doesn't possess a cannon, so he's at his best throwing quick slants that allow his playmakers to make plays. The quarterback is going to love working on a more extensive basis with senior TE De'Marieya Nelson, a second-year transfer from San Joaquin (Calif.) Delta Community College. Nelson debuted with seven catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns, two rushing scores and enough big plays on special teams to earn honorable mention All-Pac-12. Now that starter Chris Coyle has graduated, Nelson is eyeing a more prominent role that'll earn him additional touches and a groundswell of attention from NFL scouts.

What to watch for on defense: Welcome, newcomers. Get a good look at the post-spring depth chart. And then crumple it up and throw it out. The competition for jobs won't get serious until everyone arrives, especially the junior-college standouts, DT Dalvon Stuckey, DE Darrius Caldwell and CB Kweishi Brown. True freshmen defensive linemen Connor Humphreys and Tashon Smallwood will also have the training wheels ripped off in August. One rookie who's gotten a head start on everyone else is precocious LB D.J. Calhoun. The gifted four-star recruit participated in spring, and is in the hunt for the starting job at weakside.

The team will be far better if … it becomes more effective in the red zone. Arizona State was a marginal red-zone team in 2013, both offensively and defensively. With Kelly, a seasoned veteran at the controls, the Sun Devils surprisingly ranked ninth in Pac-12 touchdown efficiency, a central reason PK Zane Gonzalez led the nation in field goals. The D also ranked No. 9 in the league, a standing that could worsen in 2014 considering the wholesale changes the unit is facing this season.

The Schedule: The Sun Devils have an easy start with Weber State and going to New Mexico, and they need it. Starting out the Pac-12 season against Colorado is good, but it's on the road before getting a week off to prepare for a huge two-game, South-making stretch against UCLA and at USC. They get another week off to prepare for a run of three home games in four weeks hosting Stanford, Utah and Notre Dame and going to Washington. The biggest plus? There's no Oregon from the North. There's another great stretch of three home games in four, and the team only leaves the state of Arizona once over the final give games with Notre Dame and Washington State coming to Tempe and the regular season finale at Arizona.

Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Taylor Kelly. Kelly has been an improbable gem for the ASU program as the starter the past two years. Sure, he's put up terrific numbers worthy of All-Pac-12 honors. But it's been his leadership that's really helped to elevate the offense—and the program—to higher ground. Kelly possesses most of the characteristics that a coaching staff seeks in its quarterback; he's poised, smart, versatile and commands the respect of his teammates. In a word, Kelly is a winner, who can beat defenses with his arm, his feet and his head.

Best Defensive Player: Senior FS Damarious Randall. At this time last year, Randall was a newcomer from the junior-college ranks, a luxury coming off the bench. As the 2014 season approaches, he's one of the Sun Devils' most instrumental defenders. Randall is the lone returning regular from a depleted secondary and the only projected senior starter at the conclusion of spring drills. His best attribute is his versatility and range. He'll ball-hawk from one sideline to the other, whether he stays at field safety or moves to cornerback this summer.

Key player to a successful season: Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Yeah, yeah, Patterson's eligibility ran out almost three decades ago. But there's little doubt he's a key person to a successful season. Todd Graham hired his former college roommate to help rebuild a defense that'll be the Sun Devils' biggest stumbling block this season. With so many first-time players set to crack the two-deep this summer, it'll be up to Patterson and his assistants to coach the kids up and make sure they're gelling as a cohesive unit prior to the opener. Both will be tall orders considering the tight window the staff and players will have together.

The season will be a success if ... the Sun Devils win nine games. Of course, the bar is set at returning to the Pac-12 title game. But it's a lofty pursuit in a year that the defense has been gutted to the foundation. Arizona State hasn't won as many as 19 games in consecutive seasons since 1996-97. If the program can achieve that milestone this season, it'll confirm the direction that it's headed under Todd Graham. With UCLA, USC and even Arizona from the South Division on upward swings, ASU wants to be sure not lose any ground in 2014.

Key game: Sept. 25 vs. UCLA. In all likelihood, the Sun Devils will be 3-0 by the time the Bruins visit Tempe for the first in a handful of pivotal games that'll decide the South Division crown. Arizona State will get a visit from Weber State and trips to New Mexico and Colorado to fine-tune the rebuilt D. If the staff was successful in the offseason with the defensive makeover, fans will know it in Week 4. If not, Bruin QB Brett Hundley is going to exploit the Devils in front of their home crowd.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Takeaways: Arizona State 33 – Opponents 18
- Red-zone touchdown %: Arizona State 61% – Opponents 65%
- Sacks: Arizona State 40 - Opponents 41

- 2014 Arizona State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players