Coach: Todd Graham (28-12, entering fourth season; 77-41 overall record)
2014 record: 10-3, 6-3 in the Pac-12; tied for second in South Division
Look back: Arizona State opened last season ranked in the top 20, thriving early before inexplicably suffering a 62-27 loss to UCLA. Instead of wallowing, the team bounced back to win its next five games – four against teams ranked in the Top 25. Loses in two of the last three games denied ASU a shot at another Pac-12 South division title, but the Sun Devils wrapped up another 10-win season with a victory over Duke in the Sun Bowl.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 8
Defensive starters lost: 3
Key losses: QB Taylor Kelly, WR Jaelen Strong, OL Jamil Douglas, OL Tyler Sulka, S Damarious Randall, NT Jaxon Hood, DE Marcus Hardison
Top returnees: WR D.J. Foster, OL Christian Westerman, OL Nick Kelly, OL Vi Teofilo, WR Cameron Smith, WR Gary Chambers, DL Tashon Smallwood, DL Demetrius Cherry, LB Salamo Fiso, DB Lloyd Carrington, FS Jordan Simone, DB Kweishi Brown
Strengths: The good news for Arizona State is that despite losing three-year starter Taylor Kelly to graduation, the Sun Devils should be in good hands thanks to Mike Bercovici. The senior quarterback started three games last season in relief of an injured Kelly and showcased a strong arm by completing close to 62 percent of his passes for 1,445 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Defensively, Arizona State is one of the most experienced groups in the Pac-12. Safety Jordan Simone (100 tackles) is the team’s top returning tackler in 2015. He’ll be joined by cornerbacks Kweishi Brown (46 tackles, 3 INTs) and Lloyd Carrington (58 tackles, INT) in the secondary. Arizona State finished second in the Pac-12 with 14 interceptions in 2014.
Weaknesses: With the early departure of Jaelen Strong (1,165 yards, 10 TDs) to the NFL and a season-ending injury to Cameron Smith (596 yards, 6 TDs), the Sun Devils lost about half of their receiving production from 2014. D.J. Foster was one of seven running backs in the Pac-12 to rush for at least 1,000 yards last season, but he switched to receiver to help the Sun Devil plug holes on offense. Sophomore Demario Richard, who was second on the team in rushing yards (478), will move into the starting role
The offensive line must deal with the loss of tackles Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka, who accounted for 69 career starts.
Arizona State quarterbacks were sacked 39 times last season – ranking third-from-last in the Pac-12.
Outlook: During a short period of time, Todd Graham has turned Arizona State into a force in the Pac-12. The program enjoyed back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time since 1972-73. With considerable talent returning in 2015, there’s no sign that streak will end anytime soon. Even so, the early part of the schedule is a challenge, with showdowns against Texas A&M, USC, UCLA and Utah before the team’s first bye. Survive that stretch and a divisional title could be attainable.
Sept. 5 vs. Texas A&M
Sept. 12 Cal Poly
Sept. 19 New Mexico
Sept. 26 USC
Oct. 3 at UCLA
Oct. 10 Colorado
Oct. 17 at Utah
Oct. 29 Oregon
Nov. 7 at Washington State
Nov. 14 Washington
Nov. 21 Arizona
Nov. 28 at California
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com