After a great start to Todd Graham’s tenure at Arizona State, the team has taken a fall the last couple years with the five wins last season being his worst yet as head coach. since a South division title in 2013, the Sun Devils have gone down the standings, mainly due to an ineffective defense that was the worst in the country against the pass last year. And so, Phil Bennett comes in as the new defensive coordinator, having spent the last six seasons with Baylor.
But it can’t be overlooked that the reason ASU only had five wins was that the offense took a step back. They’ll try and get back to their old ways, but first they’ll need a starting quarterback. Manny Wilkins (63.3% completion, 12 TDs, 9 INTs) returns and looked better in the spring, although he didn’t have the job locked down with Alabama transfer Blake Barnett in the mix. Whoever wins the job will have a talented cast to work with from running backs Demario Richard (593 yards) and Kalen Ballage (536 rushing yards, 469 receiving yards, 15 TDs) to N’Keal Harry (659 yards) in the receiving Game. But to improve, the offensive line has to do better after allowing 41 sacks. The problem is that they only return two guys so there won’t be any consistency to help.
As for the defense, there’s not much to say after giving up 40 points per Game and 357.4 passing yards allowed. At the least, a lot of those guys are back so there’s experience to work with including all Four in the secondary led by safety Armand Perry. Linebackers D.J. Calhoun and Marcus Ball will likely once again lead the team in tackling, but there’s not much around them. The line needs to do better on a consistent basis with JoJo Wicker and Tashon Smallwood the ones that can change that. There are pieces to work with and Bennett should change the vibe at least a little bit, but this group will likely have its issues again, although maybe not at the same level.
The goal for ASU will be to get to a bowl Game and that’s not a given with the Schedule. The Sun Devils can’t fall to SDSU in non-Conference play and then they travel to Texas Tech after winning that shootout last season. Even with wins in those two Games, they’ll still likely need to find Four Pac-12 wins on the Schedule. It helps to draw Oregon State out of the North division, but that’s as easy as it’ll get. That may be the only road win ASU has, meaning it’ll need an upset at home against a team like Washington or Colorado and they still have to take care of Oregon and Arizona.
The Sun Devils have +3500 odds (at 5Dimes Sportsbook) to win the Pac-12, which is slightly better than Arizona, mainly because they play in Tempe this season. Otherwise, finding six wins will be difficult and another non-bowl season could mean trouble for Graham.
2017 Arizona State Sun Devils Football Schedule
Aug. 31 vs. New Mexico State
Sept. 9 vs. San Diego State
Sept. 16 at Texas Tech
Sept. 23 vs. Oregon
Sept. 30 at Stanford
Oct. 14 vs. Washington
Oct. 21 at Utah
Oct. 28 vs. USC
Nov. 4 vs. Colorado
Nov. 11 at UCLA
Nov. 18 at Oregon State
Nov. 25 vs. Arizona