4. USC Trojans
5. Utah Utes
Who will be the 3rd best team in the Pac-12 South?
Answer: The Arizona State Sun Devils
@ Washington State
Predicted Record: 7-5
Arizona State’s 8-5 record last year is a little deceiving, as they had one of the easier schedules in the Pac, having the fortune to play the four worst teams in the conference and getting a pass on Stanford and Washington. The Sun Devils beat who they were supposed to beat (save arguably Arizona, a rivalry that is almost always a crapshoot) and lost to who they were supposed to lose to. Arizona State brings back a lot of playmakers, but their schedule gets a little tougher. They will not get the pleasure of playing California and will have to play Stanford on the road, though they do get some of their tougher games at home and don’t have to play Oregon. Nevertheless, ASU’s season will be more challenging this year than last.
There will be concerns on offense and defense as well. Though the Devils return veteran quarterback Taylor Kelly–who has the potential of being one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac this season–Kelly will have trouble finding someone other than tight end Chris Coyle to throw it to, as ASU’s leading returning receiver (senior Kevin Ozier) brought in only 324 yards on 21 catches last year. The Devils will have strength on the ground, however, as they return two of their three top backs in Marion Grice and D.J. Foster and only have a couple of spots to fill on the offensive line.
On defense, Arizona State’s front line–and especially their defensive line–might be the most dangerous in the entire conference with the return of defensive tackle Will Sutton (13 sacks and 23 tackles for a loss) and outside linebacker Carl Bradford (11 sack, 20 tackles for a loss), amongst other notable players capable of causing tremendous damage. Last year’s best pass defense, however, will take a step backwards with substantial holes in the secondary–two of this year’s starters combined for only 26 total tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 passes defended and 6 passes broken up last year.
Arizona State has a good coach (second year Todd Graham), the players and the tools to return to a bowl game this year, but they also have a tougher schedule and some holes at receiver and secondary that must be filled. Meanwhile, Arizona and UCLA have easier schedules, and in my opinion, better coaches in RichRod and Jim Mora that will make more out of developing their teams for round two.