UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — Arizona State is the latest stop for well-traveled head coach Todd Graham. Since 2006, he's accepted top jobs at Rice, Tulsa, Pittsburgh and now the Sun Devils.
Despite his transient track record, Graham is preaching patience at ASU.
"As you get experience you learn," he said. "The key is getting good at something and not trying to do too much."
Thus far, Graham added, things are going well.
"We have gotten a lot of things taught and instilled in them and they have embraced our way of doing things," he continued while noting that the Sun Devils are in the best shape of their lives. "Our program is all about training and I think we position ourselves where it's exciting."
Graham is instituting a no-huddle offense and a downhill, power inside, zone scheme suited to fit personnel in the program.
On the other side of the ball, ASU is incorporating what Graham calls a "pressure-oriented hybrid-type defense" that will use both three- and four-man fronts.
The biggest change, though, may be implementing more discipline in a program that has racked up a lot of unnecessary penalties in recent years.
Flags have been plentiful.
"We have been one of the worst teams in the nation in terms of getting penalties and that's unacceptable," said senior linebacker Brandon Magee. "Coach stressed how unacceptable that is and he won't tolerate penalties. That will help us out a ton to reach the potential that we actually have as a football team."
ASU hasn't had a winning season since going 10-3 under Dennis Erickson in 2007.
Graham said this year's squad has worked hard in the offseason to get in position to be successful.
"We're proud to be here and to have the goal and expectations of restoring this program and winning championships," Graham continued. "We have won Pac-10 championships, we have won Rose Bowls, and that's what our program is going to be about."
OFFENSE: Running back Cameron Marshall became ASU's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 when he tallied 1,050 last season. The senior scored 18 touchdowns, ranking ninth in the nation. His return should help offset the loss of quarterback Brock Osweiler to the NFL. As is the case with the defense, only four starters return on ASU's offense.
DEFENSE: Penalties proved to be a big problem last season. ASU's defense was flagged for nearly 80 yards per game in 2011. Cutting that number down will be a priority. The return of Magee will offset heavy graduation losses. The senior made 73 tackles in 2010, but missed all of last season because of a torn Achilles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: ASU has a trio of dangerous return specialists in Kyle Middlebrooks, Jamal Miles and Rashard Ross. The Sun Devils led the Pac-12 in both kickoff and punt returns last season. Sophomore kicker Alex Garoutte and senior punter Josh Hubner are also back.
PLAYMAKERS: Middlebrooks has averaged 24.8 yards on kickoff returns over the past two seasons. Miles topped the conference in kick returns last season (26.3 yards per return) and took two back for touchdowns in 2011. Ross returned one for a score.
TOUGH STRETCH: ASU plays three of its final four games on the road. The November schedule includes trips to Oregon State, USC and Arizona. The lone home date is against Washington State, six days before the Sun Devils head down to Tucson to close things out.
EXTRA POINTS: Magee, who also plays baseball for ASU, has signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox. However, he will play football this season. … The grass turf at Sun Devil Stadium was replaced with new sod in May.
Arizona State Sun Devils
2012 media poll: 5th, South
2011 record: 6-7, 4-5
Head coach: Todd Graham (1st season, 49-29 overall)
Aug. 31 — 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