It was a good year in the Desert. Arizona, even though they ended the year on a sour note against Nebraska 33-0, exceeded most expectations. Most who saw the Wildcats making a bowl were thinking 6-6 was going to do it, and there was no shame in any of the four regular season losses. What are the odds that Stoops, now safe, can have a repeat-type season?
THE OFFENSE: It actually wasn't quite as good as previously thought to be. The offense in 2008 under the newly-hired Sonny Dykes managed to average 36 points per game whereas the 2009 version only 27 points a game. Yes there was that 70-0 win against Idaho and that shutout against Nebraska that may have tilted the scales, but overall it was less efficient. At the QB position, I think Nick Foles has the ability to bust out. While Foles has a good reputation as being the leader of an explosive offense (namely for those who saw him against Stanford), Foles was only ranked 70th in passing efficiency. Another year in the system and I expect that number to skyrocket. It also helps that David Douglas and Delashaun Dean are also returning at WR. Both have potential to be solid playmakers in the 2010 season along with juniors such as Juron Criner and David Roberts. So the receivers are set in their third year of the Dykes spread, what about the running backs? More than set, it appears. Nic Grigsby comes back for his senior season and should be the main focus of the offense. Grigsby has been the focus of the rushing game and the savior of said rushing game for the last 3 seasons and some thought he would leave for the NFL this year. He's joined by Keola Antolin who actually saw a diminished role from his 2008 to his 2009 season. However, Antolin still has a load of potential and this being his first year as an upperclassmen should see an increased pass-catching role and more handoffs. The offensive line was fantastic last season allowing only one sack per game, and while they have to replace the tackles, they return the interior in tact.
THE DEFENSE: This was a solid group in 2009. However, after finishing 25th in scoring defense, this team has to replace roughly 7 starters from a year ago. The most secure position on the field will be the pass rush for the 'Cats. Donald Horton and Earl Mitchell have moved on, but Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed will be back on the ends. Reed had a great 2008 season but was hampered with a mid-season injury, so having him healthy will try to maintain that sack total from a year ago. The linebacker corps is a big question mark heading into the year. C.J. Price has some experience in the systems, but has never started any meaningful games. R.J. Young also may get a shot as a sophomore in the starting rotation. Put simply, Xavier Kelly was kind of the anchor of the group when blitzing and is no longer there, so it may be a rough transition to generate pressure. CB Devin Ross was one of the biggest playmakers last season as a senior and without him in the secondary, the tackle production may slip. However, CB Trevin Wade will be returning, last year's leader in interceptions.
Sep. 4 at Toledo
Sep. 11 The Citadel
Sep. 18 Iowa
Oct. 2 California
Oct. 9 Oregon State
Oct. 16 at Washington State
Oct. 23 Washington
Oct. 30 at UCLA
Nov. 6 at Stanford
Nov. 13 USC
Nov. 20 at Oregon
Dec. 2 Arizona State
It is a bit interesting. The Pac-10 only can schedule 3 non-conference games as it stands, and while Toledo and The Citadel shouldn't be a problem, that home game against Iowa makes it very interesting. I think this is actually a very favorable schedule getting Arizona State, Washington, Oregon State, USC, and Cal all at home.
Don't Even Think About It:
Ehhhhh.....Maybe....: Iowa, USC, @ Oregon
Good/Probable Shot At It: @ Toledo, Citadel, Cal, Oregon State, @ Washington State, Washington, @ UCLA, @ Stanford, Arizona State
THE OUTLOOK: This is a good team. But I'm afraid that's all I have to say about the matter. Arizona isn't going to shock the world this year and make another Pac-10 run deep into November, but they will win another 6 or 7 games and try to keep building on the momentum they had created over the last two years. The offense will be above-average and the defense will try to solve some continuity issues in September, but even with the favorable schedule I think the potential defensive struggles will prevent them from hanging with USC and Oregon late in the year. They'll make it into a decent bowl and will then try to be better in 2011.
BOWL GAME?: Sun Bowl.
Arizona State Sun Devils
It's safe to say that Dennis Erickson is losing steam in Tempe. After a surprise run made in 2007 and a push for respectability, Arizona State has gone bowless the last two years marred by two 6-game losing streaks in the last two years. Is there hope for a change or will Arizona State change their head coach at the end of the year?
THE OFFENSE: There's not much to talk about here. Arizona State will be scratching their head regarding their QB situation, the RB situation is depleted by graduation, and the top two WRs from last year's team are gone. It's rebuilding time on this side of the ball and they'll try their hand at utilizing Noel Mazzone who has been hired all over the place. Mazzone will install a more no-huddleish, fast-pace type offense to try and light a spark under this team. At QB, I would say as a Michigan fan, Brock Osweiler all but has this job. He's battling Michigan-transfer Steven Threet who I honestly think has potential with his arm and that frame, but I doubt he'll figure it out any time soon. Don't mark me down as surprised if the Osweiler experiment fails miserably and Threet gets some looks past the midway point of the season, but Osweiler has the upside and the potential so he'll get the nod early on. The RB situation isn't quite as bad as I previously stated with Cameron Marshall, a sophomore with tons of talent, figuring to get the bulk of the work. Depth is an issue, but it will cease to be if James Morrison provides power running off of the bench. At receiver, it'll be Gerell Robinson and Kerry Taylor trying to provide the downfield threats, but my money is on former Oregon Duck Aaron Pflugrad as evolving into one of the top options. On the offensive line, watch out for redshirt freshman OT Evan Finkenberg who by all accounts has had a good spring and has gotten much bigger than when he first stepped on campus. Offensive line figures to be the strongest part of this offense, even though unfortunately LG John Hargis is out of the year with a torn ACL.
THE DEFENSE: Arizona State on defense was very solid. A surprise to many, the Sun Devils finished 13th in total defense and 26th in scoring defense a year ago. Every game besides Oregon and Stanford saw the Sun Devils D make it close enough to give the sputtering offensive a shot. The defensive end position will be decent with James Brooks returning and the interior looks great with All-Pac-10er Lawrence Guy the star up the middle. Also be careful of Saia Falahola whose production may be overshadowed by Guy this season, but proved himself last year a productive athlete. Juniors Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons will try their hand at providing some strength at the LB positions, and they have shown some athletic ability even though they have not started in the past. Vontaze Burfict is an animal, and I say that as a compliment. Burfict showed he was everything hyped up to be and more and will serve as the foundation for this Arizona State defense. He's got everything at the linebacker position and as a sophomore, I'd expect his knowledge of the college game and his adjustment to the speed of the game will make him one of the top five linebackers or so in college overnight. The secondary was a strength last season and led by CBs Omar Bolden and Deveron Carr (who now has more experience), it should be once again.
Sept. 4 Portland State
Sept. 11 Northern Arizona
Sept. 18 at Wisconsin
Sept. 25 Oregon
Oct. 2 at Oregon State
Oct. 9 at Washington
Oct. 23 at California
Oct. 30 Washington State
Nov. 6 at USC
Nov. 13 Stanford
Nov. 26 UCLA
Dec. 2 at Arizona
I was disappointed to find two FCS schools on the slate, because with the depth of the Pac-10, probably the only way ASU was going bowling was at 6-6, but I digress. The road game at Wisconsin should be a very interesting one. The Pac-10 slate could be easier, but at least they get some winnable games at home like Stanford and UCLA. The rivalry game against Arizona will be played in Tuscon this year.
Don't Even Think About It:
Ehhhhh.....Maybe....: @ Wisconsin, Oregon, @ Washington, @ Cal, @ USC
Good/Probable Shot At It: Portland State, Northern Arizona, @ Oregon State, Washington State, Stanford, UCLA, @ Arizona
THE OUTLOOK: Arizona State is one of those teams where coming to a conclusion about them in the preseason always leaves me feeling queezy. I see potential here, but can they get lucky and surprise us once or twice during the season? Those two six-game losing streaks in the past two years have made Arizona State look like UTEP in those mid-season collapses. There's too many questions on offense with a lack of reliable receivers, mediocre QB play, and little depth at running back. The defense will be fine I think, but the change in offensive styles holds the key for ASU. If they can figure out a way to increase production with the faster paced offense, then 7-5 and a bowl game is a possibility. 6-6 won't cut it since only one FCS win can count towards bowl eligibility. I think we're looking at a 6-6 team with a 4-5 Pac-10 record.
BOWL GAME?: Nope.
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