(photo courtesy USAToday Sports/Mark J. Rebilas)
First Practice: March 19
Spring Game: April 13
The nomadic Todd Graham has perhaps found a home as he's stuck around in the Valley of the Sun for a minute or two and if he's not careful he could make it a permanent home. As it stands it's already the 2nd longest tenure at a school for Graham after his stint at Tulsa (2007-2010) as he enters year two at the helm of the Arizona State program.
Year one was about transition and it's hard to say this team didn't exceed some expectations in the process, going 8-5 and showing that this team could play some actual defense when it wanted to. Defensively there aren't a lot of questions, but it's the offense that needs work coming into spring.
A lot of eyes will be on the Sun Devils as a potential sleeper in the Pac-12, ala Oregon State in 2012, and if they can grow in the passing game and continue to play good defense this team will be hard to stop. Spring is all about moving onwards and upwards for Graham and ASU.
Stability Factor (1= chaos, 5= rock solid): 4
Hard to believe were talking about a program that Graham is involved with as being on solid footing, but it's true. He built a good foundation for success in year one and with a lot of talent back this team is got a great start going for it under Graham.
It helps that the defense the Devils played in 2012 was one of the better in the Pac-12 and could be in for even greater things in year two of the Graham era. Overall it's hard to say this program isn't solid and heading for better days. It's always had the potential to be the sleeping giant out west and Graham could be just the coach to lead it to reach it's potential.
Under the Microscope: Wide Receiver
There are quite a few bodies returning to this unit, but they were so inconsistent that the best option in the passing game often was hitting the running back out of the backfield. You can't win championships in the Pac-12 without a significant passing attack and that means having receivers that can get open and catch the ball consistently. Wide Receivers counted for less than half (44%) of all catches by the offense last year and that just can't happen again if they want to move up the Pac-12 ladder and compete with the USC's and UCLA's of the South division.
To that end the Sun Devils signed seven wide receivers in this 2013 class, but none of them will be around in spring. So, spring is all about finding viable options and showing improvement amongst those actually on campus. Who are the likely candidates?
Well, unfortunately the numbers are rather bleak for this group of returning players as it features just 47 catches for 586 yards and a vast majority of those numbers belong to just one player – Kevin Ozier (21 receptions, 324 yards, 5 touchdowns). He'll be counted on to step his game up big time to help this unit improve in 2013, but also look for Alonzo Agwuenu to be a potential breakthrough player. Agwuenu has the size to be a skilled receiver in the conference and needs to show and prove after a bit of a disappointing start coming out of junior college.
Other names in the mix are Rick Smith and Kyle Middlebrooks – the only other players on the current roster with catches in an actual college football game.
Locked and Loaded: Running Back
Two names: Grice & Foster
Sounds like a law firm, right? Well, it's actually the two-headed monster at running back in Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. These two produced some very good numbers in the running game (combined for over 1,100 yards rushing), but it was their ability to produce in the receiving game that received the most attention in 2012 as they combined for nearly 1,000 yards receiving as well. Grice had 19 total touchdowns and Foster added 6 of his own for a nice 1-2 punch.
For Graham's system to really fully work it would be advantageous for one of them to take hold of the position. However, don't be surprised if a third option emerges thanks to some decent depth, albeit unproven depth, behind them and a name that pops up on the radar there is Terrell Davis.
Foster was just a true freshman last season, so this spring it will be important for him to show that he's capable of making an even bigger jump in his play. Look for this position to be a fun one to watch, but also one that the team shouldn't have to worry about as there are plenty of talented options to turn to.
Jockeying for Position: Right Side of Offensive Line
This is the biggest question mark for the offense and for this team. We all know games are won and lost in the trenches more often than not and anytime you are facing the prospects of replacing an entire side of your offensive line in one fell swoop it could be trouble. ASU faces that exact proposition thanks to the graduations of Brice Schwab (RT) and Andrew Sampson (RB).
Schwab is perhaps the bigger of the two losses in terms of pure talent leaving, but no matter as both are big for the Sun Devils thanks to a lack of experienced depth behind them. There's been some talk of a possible move for Jamil Douglas to a tackle spot (either side) and that also means another opening spot in the middle of the line if it happens.
This group has potential to be good, but this spring will be all about settling in at positions and then battling it out in the fall for starting spots. Names to keep an eye on include the possible starting LT, Evan Goodman, as well as potential right guard starters in Sil Ajawara and Vi Teofilo. There's talent to this group it just needs seasoning and experience.
Name to Know: Terrell Davis, RB
Davis is a name to watch because he flashed last season in fall camp as a freshman before redshirting the year. He had 123 yards in the final scrimmage of the fall camp and his size at 6'2" and 225lbs. is certainly college ready. Watching what he does this spring is going to be key for a team searching for that "feature back" they didn't have last season. If he can build off of what he showed in practice on the scout team and from fall camp he could provide just the needed depth to ease any concerns should Grice or Foster go down.
Spring will be a success if…. Taylor Kelly continues to show improvement
Kelly was a dynamic playmaker at times and a frustrating first year starter at times in 2012, but he was more often good than he was bad and if he can continue to show maturity and better pocket awareness he could be in for a huge 2013. Last season saw him complete 67.1% of his passes for 3,039 yards with 29 touchdowns to 9 interceptions.
If Kelly and the wide receivers can get on the same page this team could do some major damage and be a big time sleeper in the Pac-12. Count spring a success if you and I see a glimmer of that happening on April