Pac-12 preview: Arizona State Sun Devils determined to keep contending
Ross D. Franklin, AP
Editor's note: This is the third in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season.
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Arizona State coach Todd Graham wore it on his sleeve.
“Our program is about winning championships, period,” he said. “Our motto this year is unfinished business. You see it on my wristband here.”
The Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South last season before falling to Stanford in the conference championship game. Graham made it clear that they fell short of their planned objective.
The standard, he explained, is to win every game — collecting the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl titles along the way.
“What I like is our players expect to win,” Graham said. “How you do that is winning every day.”
After winning 18 games in his first two seasons in Tempe, Arizona, Graham is already heaping a lot of praise on his third edition — despite having just two returning starters on defense.
“This is the smartest team I’ve had, the team with the best character I’ve ever had,” Graham said. “And I have a lot of confidence this will be the best team we’ve put on the field at Arizona State.”
OFFENSE: Senior quarterback Taylor Kelly passed for 3,635 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2013. He completed 62.4 percent of his passes. Kelly also rushed for 608 yards and nine scores in leading ASU’s high-powered attack. Junior running back D.J. Foster also has dual-threat capabilities. He had 653 yards receiving and 501 yards rushing last season.
Jaelen Strong headlines the receiving corps. The junior is coming off a campaign where he made 75 catches for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns. Three starters return to the offensive line, led by senior Jamil Douglas (6-4, 301).
DEFENSE: Junior Jaxon Hood has the task of replacing two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton on the interior line. Senior defensive end Marcus Hardison is another player the Sun Devils will count on heavily. Sophomore linebacker Salamo Fiso (71 tackles) and senior defensive back Damarious Randall (three interceptions) are other players to watch on a rebuilt ASU defense.
Graham noted that the Sun Devils will be young but very talented on defense.
“I have a lot of confidence that we’ve gotten guys that can execute what we’re trying to do,” he said. “But there is no substitute for experience. They’ll need experience to get better.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sophomore Zane Gonzalez set a single-season scoring record with 138 points last season. He made 63 of 65 PATs and was 25 of 30 on field goal attempts. ... Sophomore Matt Haack averaged 38.2 yards per punt in 2013.
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