#57 Arizona State Football 2016 Preview

Arizona State Sun Devils
Overall Rank: #57
#10 Pac-12
Following ten win seasons in 2013 and 2014, last year was supposed to be a big year for Arizona State. But instead they struggled defensively and the usually potent offense was inconsistent at best. The Sun Devils had a nice win at UCLA, but there were some bad losses too, especially at the end of the year. ASU blew a 21 point lead at California and lost 48-46 and followed it up with a loss to West Virginia in the Cactus Bowl 43-42. There really are not many signs that the defense is going to get much better and the offense now has some huge holes to fill.
2015 Record: 6-7, 4-5
2015 Bowl: Cactus Bowl vs. West Virginia (L 42-43)
Coach: Todd Graham (34-19 at Arizona State, 83-48 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Chip Lindsey
Defensive Coordinator: Keith Patterson
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Demario Richard, RB, 1,104 yards
Passing: Matt Haack, P, 27 yards
Receiving: Tim White, WR, 633 yards
Tackles: Salamo Fiso, LB, 99
Sacks: DJ Calhoun, LB, 6.5
Interceptions: Kareem Orr, S, 6
Other Key Returnees: RB Kalen Ballage, TE Kody Kohl, LB Sam Christian, LB Laiu Moeakiola, DL Tashon Smallwood
Key Losses: QB Mike Bercovici, WR Devin Lucien, WR D.J. Foster, OL Christian Westerman, LB Antonio Longino, DB Jordan Simone
Despite those holes to fill on offense, it is still the strength of any Todd Graham coached team. Quarterback Mike Bercovici is gone after throwing for 3,855 yards and 30 touchdowns. No quarterback on the roster threw a pass last season and it looks like the quarterback battle will be between sophomore Manny Wilkins and freshmen Brady White, Bryce Perkins and Dillon Sterling-Cole. Whoever starts will put up decent numbers in this offense, but it remains to be seen if their inexperience will be a big problem. With four starting linemen and receivers Devin Lucien and D.J. Foster gone, there is certainly cause for concern. Tim White is an experienced receiver and Cameron Smith will be welcomed back after missing the 2015 campaign with a knee injury. In 2014, Smith caught 41 passes for 596 yards. The ground game has far fewer questions with Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage leading the way. Richard rushed for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns, while Ballage added 653 yards and four scores. The offense may have to rely on those two for a while until the passing game comes around.
The pass defense allowed 337.8 yards per game, ranking dead last in the FBS. Even with a great offense, allowing that many yards and 33.5 points per game is not going to win you many football games. Coach Graham wants to blitz and he will blitz from everywhere. That is why Arizona State ranked first in the nation in sacks per game. However, it is also why the secondary was almost always left alone and was simply not good enough to stop anybody. It was boom or bust for the defense and eventually it was going to be a bust. If the front four can get more pressure on the quarterback without the help of everybody else, the defense should be better. And that seems likely with JoJo Wicker coming off of a very promising freshman campaign. Tackles Ami Latu and Tashon Smallwood have plenty of experience too. Linebacker Salamo Fiso leads a unit that also returns Christian Sam, who was second to only Fiso with 98 tackles. But the big issue is in the secondary where three starters need to be replaced. Former linebacker Laiu Moekiola is moving to free safety to provide some experience to the unit. Sophomores Armand Perry and Kareem Orr, who picked off a Pac-12 leading six passes, showed potential last season, but now they need to develop into consistent defensive backs.
The Bottom Line:
Perhaps last season was just a fluke and Arizona State is a program that will continue to win ten games a year. Or perhaps everything just caught up to the Sun Devils and last year was a more accurate representation of what is going on with the program. The defense completely lacked depth in 2015 and that was a huge problem down the stretch of games and down the stretch of the season. The depth does not appear too much better this year and a few injuries here and there could really set the unit back. And, unlike last year, there are questions on offense too. The reality of the situation is that Arizona State is probably better than their record indicted last year, but this team should be a little worse than last year’s too. Many of the most winnable games come early so Arizona State needs to come out ready to go. It would not be a surprise for this group to start out 4-0. Nor would it be all that surprising if they ended up 5-7 after a 4-0 start.
Projected Bowl: None
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 178.4 (56th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 299.0 (20, 3)
Total Offense: 477.4 (24, 4)
Scoring Offense: 34.6 (32, 5)
Rushing Defense: 125.9 (20, 3)
Pass Defense: 337.8 (127, 12)
Total Defense: 463.8 (112, 9)
Scoring Defense: 33.5 (99, 9)
Turnover Margin: 0.15 (51, 6)
Sacks: 3.54 (1, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 3.00 (111, 9)

Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#40 N'Keal Harry