Arizona State is known for its raucous parties, especially the Spring Break trips to Lake Havasu. But recently those good times haven’t been strictly confined to parties, the Sun Devil football team is having its most successful stretch in team history. Todd Graham has also built this program to continue being good, and they got some fresh new duds from Adidas for the 2015 season.
Mike Bercovici did a fantastic job filling in when Taylor Kelly missed some time due to injury last season. Let’s just hope he can avoid the John Brantley/Matt Flynn effect of great backup play followed by underwhelming play as a starter. Bercovici completed nearly 62% of his 186 pass attempts last season for not quite 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Guards Vi Teofilo and Christian Westerman and center Nick Kelly give the Sun Devils a strong and experienced interior line. Kelly was a second-team all-conference pick last season, and Westerman has found his name on several preseason all-conference lists. The tackles are a little bit more questionable, however. William McGehee is expected to start at right tackle, and redshirt freshman Sam Jones at left tackle. Neither McGehee nor Jones have any starting experience.
D.J. Foster is in a rare club of being his team’s leading returning receiver and rusher. Foster had over 1,700 yards from scrimmage last season and twelve total touchdowns. Foster is expected to make a full-time move to receiver this season, no doubt in an effort to replace third-round pick Jaelen Strong. The remainder of the receiving corps will be rounded out by UCLA transfer Devin Lucien, slot receiver Frederick Gammage, and tight end Kody Kohl.
With Foster’s move to receiver, Demario Richard should be in line to receive most of the carries for the Sun Devils in 2015. As Foster’s main backup last season, he rushed for 478 yards and four touchdowns. He also did that on an impressive 5.7 yards per carry, oh and he was only a freshman last season. Another sophomore, Kalen Ballage, should see a pretty big up-tick in playing time this season after rushing for 126 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Arizona State returns the vast majority of last year’s defense, and if they want to fulfill or exceed expectations then they will need to shore up the pass defense. That starts in the secondary with safety Jordan Simone and corners Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown. Simone was the team’s second leading tackler last season with 87 tackles. Carrington and Brown combined for four interceptions, eleven pass break-ups and two forced fumbles.
Salamo Fiso, Antonio Longino and Viliami Moeakiola all return to their starting linebacker positions and were an incredibly productive trio last season. They combined for over 200 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles. Redshirt freshman Ishmael Murphy-Richardson is expected to take up the mantle beside these three at the “Devil” position, which is easily the coolest job title on the team.
Tashon Smallwood is the only defensive lineman to reach twenty tackles last season, and no member on this line, other than the departed Marcus Hardison, was particularly effective at getting to the quarterback. Edmond Boateng is expected to replace Hardison at the primary rush end position and is the leading returning sack artist with 2.5 sacks last season. Demetrius Cherry will join Boateng and Smallwood in the starting lineup up front.
Arizona State is a good team that is unfortunately stuck in a stacked division. I think the Sun Devils are the best team in the South outside of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Unfortunately, there are two teams that fit that criteria and I believe that Arizona State is still an arm’s length away from challenging USC and UCLA for the division. However, we will probably know a lot more about the accuracy of that call after week one with Sparky takes on Texas A&M in Houston. I actually expect the Sun Devils to win that game, although believe it will be very close.