Today at No. 39: Arizona State
Coach: Todd Graham (39-26, entering sixth season; 88-55 overall)
2016 record: 5-7, 2-7 in the Pac-12 Conference, tied for fourth in South Division
Look back: It was business as usual for Arizona State in 2016, with the Sun Devils winning five of their first six games. But they went into free-fall in mid-October, as a six-game losing streak knocked them out of bowl contention for the first time since 2009. The skid was the program’s longest losing streak since 2011.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: WR Tim White, OL Evan Goodman, OL Stephon McCray, WR Kody Kohl, DE Vilami Latu, LB Salamo Fiso, Gump Hayes, LB Laiu Moeakiola
Top returnees: QB Manny Wilkins, RB Demario Richard, RB Kalen Ballage, WR N’Keal Harry, LB DJ Calhoun, DE Jo Jo Wicher, DB Kareem Orr
Strengths: Arizona State features its third offensive coordinator in as many years, with Billy Napier stepping in after Chip Lindsay left for Auburn. Napier has the Sun Devils moving toward a more hybrid style of offense, with hints of a traditional pro-style look mixed in with spread-like tendencies. The quarterback position is deep but lacks direction at the moment, with incumbent Manny Wilkins and Blake Barnett, a transfer from Alabama, the perceived favorites to win the job in preseason camp.
Wilkins struggled through injuries and inconsistencies last season, passing for 2,329 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 10 starts.
Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage shared the tailback duties in 2016, combining to rush for more than 1,200 yards and 17 total touchdowns.
Eight players saw starts on the offensive line in 2016, with four back in 2017.
Weaknesses: Graham shook up the defensive staff when he demoted Keith Patterson in order to bring in longtime friend Phil Bennett to take over as defensive coordinator. Bennett spent the past five seasons guiding Baylor’s defense and will now take over a group that finished last in the Pac-12 in total defense in 2016.
A pair of second team All-Pac-12 players return in the form of junior DE JoJo Wicker and senior LB Koron Crump.
The secondary gave up at least 400 yards through the air four times last season and will need CB Kareem Orr and S Marcus Ball and S Armand Perry to play bigger roles in 2017.
Outlook: The heat is starting to build under Graham, who suffered his second consecutive losing season since taking over the Arizona State program in 2012. The school raised some eyebrows this offseason when it reportedly decided against offering Graham a one-year contract extension