The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 62: Arizona State
Analysis compiled by Matt Murschel.
Coach: Todd Graham (0-0, first season; 49-29 sixth season overall)
2011 record: 6-7 (4-5 in Pac-12, tied for 3rd in South Division)
Look back: After coming off a 6-6 season in 2010, Arizona State and head coach Dennis Erickson were at a crossroads. The Sun Devils hadn’t been to a bowl game since Erickson’s first year – 2007 – and the program appeared to be struggling. However, opening the season with wins in five of the team’s first six games provided a lot of promise. But that promise faded with losses in six of the team’s past seven games including a route by Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Erickson was fired and Todd Graham was brought in during the offseason.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 8/4
Defensive starters lost/returning: 6/4
Key losses: QB Brock Osweiller, WR Gerell Robinson, WR Aaron Pflugrad, DE Jamaar Jarrett, LB Colin Parker
Top returnees: RB Cameron Marshall, DT Will Sutton, CB Deveron Carr, CB Oshahon Irabor
Strengths: Graham plans on implementing a no-huddle style of offense at Arizona State, which means that players like running back Cameron Marshall will be called upon to play a bigger part in the offense. Marshall spent part of the offseason hobbled by ankle surgery and the Sun Devils are hoping he returns to the form of 2011 when he rushed for 1,050 yards and 18 touchdowns. If he struggles, look for Dentre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks to provide some pop off the bench. … The secondary returns two key pieces in corners Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr. Both should bolster a unit that could play a crucial role in stopping Pac-12 opposing offenses.
Weaknesses: Losing Brock Osweiller was a big blow for the program and Graham. Osweiller provided leadership as well as a strong arm that he showcased last season by throwing for 4,036 yards and 26 touchdowns. The staff will have to turn to Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly at quarterback to run the offense. … Also gone from the offense is wide receiver Gerrell Robinson. Robinson led the team in receiving with 77 catches for 1,397 yards and seven touchdowns. Jamal Miles will have to step up and become the team’s main target. … Much like the offense, the defense only returns four starters losing last year’s dynamic playmaker Vonteze Burfict. Burfict made lot of news off the field as well as on it but he did lead the team in sacks (5.0) and provided a presence to disrupt opposing offenses.
Outlook: The decision to hire Todd Graham was not a popular one in some circles especially considering the way in which he left his previous job at Pittsburgh however Graham gives the Sun Devils a coach who will instill discipline in its players. This team will have some serious growing pains going into 2012 especially at quarterback but that doesn’t meant that Arizona State is in full-blown rebuilding mode. Expectations will have to be tempered going into the season especially with questions remaining at key positions.
Aug. 30/Sept. 1 Northern Arizona
Sept. 8 Illinois
Sept. 15 at Missouri
Sept. 22 Utah
Sept. 29 at California
Oct. 11 at Colorado
Oct. 18 Oregon
Oct. 27 UCLA
Nov. 3 at Oregon State
Nov. 10 at USC
Nov. 17 Washington State
Nov. 23 at Arizona
Rest of the countdown: