Series Record: Stanford trails, 11-16
Harbaugh/Shaw Era: Series tied, 2-2
Last Season: Did not play
This Season: September 21st at Stanford
Stanford and Arizona State haven't played each other since 2010 when the Cardinal came away with a narrow 17-13 victory. The Stanford brand has grown considerably in the three years since then, but the Sun Devils haven't quite been able to meet expectations.
With the freakishly tall Brock Osweiler at quarterback and manchild Vontaze Burfect wreaking havoc at linebacker, Arizona State was the hip pick to win the Pac-12 South in 2011. They jumped out to a 6-2 start which included a decisive win over USC, but four straight losses to unranked Pac-12 opponents put them at 6-6, and the psychological baggage that went along with that disappointing finish might have contributed to their thirty-two-point loss to Boise State in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl.
A soft schedule in the early going helped the Devils start out 5-1 under new head coach Todd Graham last season, but a vicious string of games against Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State, and USC brought them back down to Earth and back down to .500 at 5-5. The good news, though, was that they were able to rebound with perhaps their three best games of the season: 46-7 over Washington State, 41-34 over rival Arizona, and 62-28 over Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
The momentum of those final three games and the return of quarterback Taylor Kelly give Sun Devil fans plenty of reason for optimism heading into the 2013 season. Taylor was something of an unknown quantity heading into 2012, only having thrown four passes in his career (all complete!) before winning the starting job, but he silenced any doubters fairly early on. He fnished with 3,039 yards passing, 29 touchdowns, and a 67.1 completion percentage. A quarterback is always important to his team's success, but a quick look at Kelly's game log reveals how incredibly important he was to the Sun Devils. In ASU's seven wins, Kelly threw 17 touchdown passes without a single interception. In the five losses he was a completely different player, throwing for just 8 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. If that's not an eye-opening stat, I don't know what is.
For more on Kelly, Graham, and the rest of Arizona State, I give you Cody Ulm of House of Sparky. Enjoy...
The Sun Devils finished a respectable 8-5 in 2012 and ended with a dominant win over Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. How would you characterize ASU's season last year?
The Sun Devils 2012 season was a roller coaster at times but definitely better than any fan could have expected. Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the program with big names like Brock Osweiler and Vontaze Burfict departing and a new regime makeover in the works. Instead, Arizona State was a late field goal against UCLA away from a Pac-12 Championship appearance. It's probably safe to say they overachieved at times but it all came together in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl after the team was able to get a few extra practices under their belt. Against Navy, the Sun Devil offense somehow managed to combine explosiveness and efficiency to produce big plays in a short period of time. On defense, they were aggressive in getting after the quarterback yet still alert in the run defense department. Sure, it's easy to say they won't be playing Navy for 12 games next year but the team we saw in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl was the epitome of Todd Graham football. In a way, you can say 2012 was ASU's learning on the job year, and in the end it all clicked. Now, it's just about seeing if that carries over.
After only thirteen games it might be too early to judge a new head coach, but how do fans feel about head coach Todd Graham?
There's little doubt that this fanbase loves CTG. In only one year on the job, Graham has infused a program sorely lacking tradition with exactly what they were missing. From an emotional return to Camp Tontozona to simple things like throwing the game ball into the student section, it’s clear that Graham set out to not only prove something to the fans but to also help the fans prove something to themselves. Heading into 2013, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to say that this fan base is as unified as it’s been since the Jake Plummer days.
Talk about quarterback Taylor Kelly. What are his strengths and weaknesses, and what are the expectations for him coming into 2013?
I’m going to be real honest with you: I severely underestimated Kelly’s skillset entering the 2012 season. Plain and simple, he’s the perfect quarterback for this period of Sun Devil football. Yes, Graham would probably prefer a quarterback with a substantially stronger arm but that isn’t necessary until the wide receiver talent comes along. Kelly is natural leader who has a gift for making something out of nothing. He’s as accurate as they come and his unheralded mobility allows him to make some pretty spectacular plays at time. Realistically, Kelly isn’t going to win you football games on his own (although he tried his darndest in that Mizzou loss last year). And no, he won’t put up the same incredible touchdown stats that he did last year. But in terms of what he brings to the table, he’s precisely what the Sun Devils need at this juncture from the quarterback position.
Who might be the breakout player for the Sun Devils this year?
Either Carl Bradford or Marion Grice. Both “broke out” last season but neither get a ton of national attention. With the situations they’re in this season though, I think we could see at least one of the two in the third team All-American region. At the bare minimum, both will finally get some media recognition as some of the finest players at in their respective position groups. With Cameron Marshall out of the picture, Grice is looking at a 240-270 touch offensive campaign. And considering he scored 19 touchdowns with just 144 touches last season, we could have a Heisman darkhorse on our hands (especially if the Devils manage to get to Pasadena). As for Bradford, I expect him to be main beneficiary of all the attention Will Sutton will be receiving. This offseason, he’s mostly been working on his run defense but with Sutton sure to be schemed against, I could see him being in the high ‘teens in terms of sacks. In other words, expect both these gentlemen to have soared up draft boards by the time the season is over.
Finally, what are the realistic expectations for this team?
I think the best case scenario is being 9-3 by the time the regular season is over. I don’t see any way that the Devils manage to get out of their Wisconsin, @Stanford, USC, Notre Dame four-game stretch with more than two wins. From there though, it’s relatively smooth sailing with @UCLA and Oregon State at home being the only real challenges. If the Devils manage to take care of business against the Bruins and Trojans while also sporting a record in the 9-3 range, they should have no problem representing the South in the Pac-12 Championship. Obviously beating an Oregon or Stanford in that game is entirely different story but at least making the conference championship should be the goal. So I guess with the daunting early season schedule in mind, a realistic expectation would be that the Devils prove themselves as a back end, Top-25 team by the time the season is over.