With spring football coming a a close, fans of every team are eager for college football to resume in the fall. Arizona State, who enters the Pac-12 South division this year, looks to finally return to its 2007 season form, when it went 10-3 and earned a share of the Pac-10 championship. The team has already made a big splash this year by being the favorite to win the south division, being an early top 25 candidate, and by redesigning their uniforms. Can they live up to the hype and compete? Here is a complete summary of every single position for the 2011 team.
If you want to win football games, you need a quarterback. There’s a reason why nine of the last eleven first overall draft picks have been quarterbacks. Just ask any ASU fan why it is so important to have an elite passer. Since the departure of Rudy Carpenter, ASU has suffered through a slew of interception prone quarterbacks who have been unable to lead to team to its potential. This year’s leading man is Brock Osweiler, a six foot eight former dual sport athlete with a strong arm and good leadership abilities. He proved his mettle last year by leading ASU on a two game winning streak to close out the season. He is a great physical prospect, but his decision making can be suspect at times. The sudden retirement of veteran QB’s in Steven Threet and Samson Szakaczy left him as the only possible starter and he has a very good spring. The candidates for backup include Taylor Kelly, a former Gatorade Idaho Player of the Year award winner, and freshmen Michael Bercovici and Michael Eubank. Eubank is the most intriguing long term prospect as he offers fantastic physical ability paired with a good arm. However, Bercovici has been extremely impressive this spring after he enrolled early to get a jump start on his career, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he won the backup job, forcing Eubank to redshirt. Head Coach Dennis Erickson has said that this is the most talented quarterback foursome he has ever coached, and ASU fans everywhere are desperately hoping that he is telling the truth.
Running Back: A
The Sun Devils return a pair of electrifying running backs in the form of Deantre Lewis and Cameron Marshall. Lewis, who is returning from a injury involving a drive by shooting, demonstrated his play making abilities last year. He is a speedster who can go the distance on every play. He should be extremely active in ASU’s pass oriented offense. Cameron Marshall, meanwhile, is a strong stocky runner who has the strength and speed to run over or around defenders. He could be the most surprising back in the Pac-12 this year. He has the ability to be an every down back and should be a very solid contributor. With a few other backs providing depth, this could be one of the strongest units in recent years.
Wide Receivers: B
ASU runs a passing dependent offense and if it is going to take flight, the veteran receivers are going to have to step up big time. Mike Willie and Gerell Robinson, both six foot four seniors, will likely lead the charge this year after TJ Simpson went down in spring with a serious knee injury. Willie is a JUCO transfer who has the size and hands to be the number one receiver this year. Robinson brings all the physical tools you need to be a successful college starter but he has struggled with drops and inconsistent play in the past. He can be a game changer if he can put it all together. Aaron Pflugrad is another senior receiver who should be a huge contributor this year. Pfugrad is a slightly undersized slot receiver who has sure hands and great route running skills. George Bell, yet another senior, rounds out the receiving corps with the ability to stretch the field but he also brings a problem with drops. The veterans on the squad all have potential, and they need to step up their game to lead ASU to a division championship
Offensive Line: B-, potential for A
Anyone who has followed ASU football has seen the all too common sight of a quarterback picking himself off the ground after taking a huge hit. Hopefully, Osweiler will be able to avoid this behind an extremely experienced line which returns all of last year’s starters. Garth Gerhart, brother of NFL Running back Toby Gerhart, is the leader at center who is the line’s best player. He is joined by several other key players including Evan Finkenberg, Dan Knapp, and underachieving Bryce Schwab who should have solid season with the plethora of experienced players available this year. We won’t know for sure until the ASU line takes the field this fall, but early indicators seem to be that this line could rise above the mediocrity present in the past.
Defensive Line: A
The Sun Devils might have their best defensive line in years even despite the loss of DT Lawrence Guy. Will Sutton, who missed last season due to academic problems, has looked downright incredible at times in the spring. He could be even better than Guy was, and he could anchor the defensive line with his solid play. He is joined by Cody Adams, who is also expected to contribute at DT. Junior Onyeali, fresh off a Pac-10 Freshmen Defensive Player of the Year award, should bring heavy pressure off the edge to complement Sutton and Adams. The sophomore DE racked up 6.5 sacks in limited playing time last year. When he is on the field, he can get to the QB. This defensive line could be one of the most surprising units on the team this year.
Two words: Vontaze Burfict. If you’ve never hear of him, listen up. He is the best linebacker in the nation, bar none. The physical Middle Linebacker is an absolutely dominant player who completely changes every single play. He is a top ten draft pick and, barring any issues with his character concerns, should be the centerpiece of a fantastic ASU defense. He is joined by Brandon Magee and Oliver Aaron. Brandon. Burfict’s former high school teammate, is a fast and physical weak side linebacker who is ASU’s second most consistent linebacker. Aaron is coming off of his breakout season and his great speed puts him in the position to make the right plays. Shelly Lyons also returns, and he is a starter quality backer who adds depth to the unit. With all these talents combined with Burfict’s incredible abilities, ASU will have one of the best Linebacking corps in the nation.
Unfortunately, this unit won’t be anywhere near as good as it would have been if the team didn’t lose likely future draft pick Omar Bolden to a devastating knee injury in the spring. Although Bolden looks to return near the end of the seasons, Deveron Carr and Osahon Irabor will be the starting corners and while they both have the talent to compete, they have been very inconsistent. Irabor has the ability to be ASU’s next stud corner and he should develop into a great player. However, this will likely be season which will be remembered for what could have been at the corner spot, unless the young guys step up their game.
The entire secondary is an unknown quantity this year, and this is especially true at the safety spots. ASU was unable to find a consistent starter last year and this year, Eddie Elder is the only guy who looks like a quality starter at this point in time. He played unbelievably well in the Duel in the Desert last year and he should hopefully continue his emergence. Clint Floyd is likely the other safety starter. He is a good athlete but not a great safety and still needs to develop. This position, along with cornerback, might prove to be ASU’s Achilles heel this season, especially when you consider that they are likely going to be trying to shut down future top ten draft picks Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. The Pac-12 also will include Nick Foles, Jordan Wynn, and Ryan Katz, who all have big potential. If the team can’t find a serviceable duo to play this year, it could be a long season.
Thomas Weber is gone, and he has left big shoes to fill (and kick with). Kicker Alex Garoutte should win the job. He has 50+ field goal ability but had a bad spring. This does brink back memories of Thomas Weber, who was another freshman who struggled through his first spring but had a fantastic year. The punting game is also inconsistent, with no clear guy at the moment.
Final Recap: A-
Positions of strengths: Linebacker: Running Back, Defensive Line
Positions of potential liability: Wide Receiver, Quarterback, Offensive Line
Positions of Weaknesses: Cornerback, Safety, Kicker/Punter
Gut Feeling: I think the Devils are going to be a great team but drop a few important games in a manner similar to last year, and end up competing for but not winning the Pac-12 South. Pay attention to quarterback and the secondary, as those spots will define their success this year.