No. 9: Arizona State. If picking Washington State to finish last is a slam dunk, projecting ASU at No. 9 is an easy finger roll layup. That’s where the Sun Devils finished last season and they don’t look any better — and quite possibly substantially worse — this season. At least last year ASU had its defense going for it. The Sun Devils finished last year ranked No. 13 in the country in total defense (297.58 yards allowed per game). ASU has lost seven starters from that unit and doesn’t appear to have done much to improve its anemic offense.
The Sun Devils still have talent on defense. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has made several preseason All-Pac-10 and All-American lists and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy could emerge as one of the conference’s top down linemen. But ASU will be hard-pressed to match last year’s performance on defense, which was dominant at times.
Can the Sun Devils make up for it on offense? That doesn’t appear likely, either. Danny Sullivan gave them iffy quarterback play last season and they will be starting from scratch this year. Steven Threet, a Michigan transfer, appears to be the leading candidate to take over signal-calling duties but Brock Osweiler, who threw 55 passes last year, is also in the mix. Samson Szakacsy fell behind after suffering a shoulder injury during the spring. Whomever takes over the quarterback duties will be running a new, no-huddle offense introduced by new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
ASU hasn’t had an established featured running back in a few years now and that doesn’t appear to change this year. And arguably the Sun Devils’ top two offensive weapons last year — wide receivers Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams — are both gone.
Coach Dennis Erickson was the toast of the town in Tempe when he took over ASU’s program in 2007 and led them to a 10-3 record and a final No. 11 ranking in the BCS standings. Now many believe this will be his last season at the helm unless he pulls off a miracle.