While 11 regular season wins and a trip to the Rose Bowl is an outlandish forecast for Arizona State football, some longtime watchers of the team will tell you they feel the 2005 Sun Devils are capable of something big.
Buoyed by last year’s surprising 9-3 record and Sun Bowl victory, ASU is brimming with confidence. And the roster is as big, athletic and talented as fifth-year coach Dirk Koetter has had in Tempe.
ASU, for the first time in a while, looks like a good college football team. A team that, Koetter believes, is more ready to start a season than any of his previous squads.
"This is a deep team, except for a couple positions," Koetter said. "We are as ahead as we’ve ever been because of our depth and experience."
The Sun Devils are ranked 20th by the Associated Press and 18th in the USA Today coaches poll. Pac-10 media picked them to place third in the conference, behind USC and California.
"I don’t really pay much attention to that," preseason All-America wide receiver Derek Hagan said. "Those rankings are just assumptions on where people think we’re going to finish. As long as we win the games we’re supposed to, we’ll be OK."
After a lukewarm preseason embrace by fans — thanks to ASU’s eighth-place Pac-10 finish in 2003 — there is more excitement this August. Many longtime watchers, conspicuously absent from Camp Tontozona a year ago, were back.
So were others, as the Sun Devils drew a combined 2,400 fans for their two camp scrimmages. And when single-game ticket sales went on sale earlier this month, business was brisk.
Expectations are high. And a schedule featuring games against LSU and USC — the teams many predict will meet in the Rose Bowl for the national championship — will be demanding.
Time for that talent and experience to shine through.
"We have a lot of experience," offensive tackle Andrew Carnahan said. "So, the first few games, it’s not going to be about getting into a groove. Everyone will know what to do."
Derek Hagan: Everybody’s preseason All-American, the senior wide receiver will soon be able to look up at John Jefferson’s retired number below the Sun Devil Stadium press box and say, "I broke your records." Hagan should complete his eligibility with ASU career marks in catches, yards and touchdowns.
Keegan Herring: The freshman running back from Peoria has been the most talked-about new player — maybe the most talked-about player, period — in camp. He has displayed the speed, shiftiness and durability that could earn him most of the tailback work if the Sun Devils put Rudy Burgess in a runner/ receiver role.
Jamar Williams and Dale Robinson: Strong-side linebacker Williams loves to talk and gesture to pick his teammates up during practice, even if it makes the offense mad at him. Williams and middle linebacker Robinson have taken it upon themselves to energize the Sun Devil workouts, and they have made plays all camp. Imagine the kind of intensity they will bring to the games.
Offensive line: Center Grayling Love, guards Stephen Berg and Zach Krula and tackles Brandon Rodd and Andrew Carnahan do not get a lot of love in the preseason national unit rankings, but they form perhaps ASU’s best group of blockers since the 1996 Rose Bowl team. The starters boast a wealth of experience and versatility, and should one go down, Mike Pollak and Chaz White are seasoned reserves.
Kyle Caldwell: This is the year that ASU needs Caldwell — a junior and Saguaro High graduate — to develop into a passrushing monster at defensive end. The potential is there, as he had a team high-tying seven sacks in 2004. But he has been limited in camp while recovering from May knee surgery. If Caldwell cannot go against Temple on Thursday, the front four will have just one returning starter, tackle Jordan Hill.
Sam Keller: Yes, the junior quarterback was outstanding in the Sun Bowl, a game he had nearly a month to prepare for. But when you are on almost everyone’s "biggest shoes to fill" list, you will be watched closely. How Keller adapts to preparing for a different opponent every week will determine how much of Andrew Walter’s production he can replace.
Josh Barrett and Maurice London: Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson has said that one of the most difficult adjustments from college to the NFL was handling the read, check and playcalling responsibilities. New Sun Devil defensive coordinator Bill Miller’s scheme is described as "an NFL defense." There is much more defensedirecting weight on the shoulders of ASU’s safeties than in the past, meaning Barrett and London will have to be mentally sharp at all times.
Punt team: Whether it was protecting for or covering a punt, the Sun Devils were subpar last season. They had four kicks blocked and ranked 114th in the nation by allowing 18.5 yards a punt return. In hopes of reducing the return yards allowed, ASU has been auditioning gunners — the outside players who sprint downfield to make most of the tackles — throughout camp.
REMEMBER THESE NAMES
Zach Catanese: The junior college transfer, who has raised eyebrows in camp with some big hits, is a backup safety who will contribute greatly on special teams. He possesses linebacker size (6-feet-2, 226-pounds) and is not hesitant to move toward the scrimmage line to provide run support.
Robert James: Some within the program are expecting a breakout year from James, a sophomore who is listed as the first team weak-side linebacker. The Maryvale High product has good speed and pass-coverage skills for a LB — no surprise, considering he moved there from safety.
Shannon Jones: Jones — younger brother of former Sun Devils defensive lineman Shane Jones — came to camp in less-thanideal condition and was reminded of that fact often by coaches. An in-shape Jones could provide a boost at defensive tackle, as he recorded 16 sacks and 41 stops for losses in two years at Sierra (Calif.) Junior College.
Leo Talavou: The redshirt freshman was one of ASU’s most improved offensive linemen at spring practice, and he got lots of time at left guard with the first team in fall camp while Stephen Berg was contact-limited. Oh, and Talavou checks in at 362 pounds, so you can bet the Sun Devils are not going to keep that bulk on the bench.
Keno Walter-White: One of the top junior college cornerbacks in the nation last year, Walter-White has enjoyed spirited practice duels with receiver Derek Hagan. Firststring CBs R.J. Oliver and Josh Golden have been limited in camp because they are coming off injuries, and should one be unable to go, Walter-White could potentially step in and not miss a beat.
Thursday Temple, 7 p.m.
Sept. 10 at LSU, 5:45 p.m.
Sept. 17 Northwestern, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 at Oregon St., 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 USC, TBA
Oct. 8 Oregon, TBA
Oct. 22 at Stanford, 2 p.m.
Oct. 29 Washington, 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 5 at Washington St., TBA
Nov. 12 at UCLA, 5 p.m.
Nov. 25 Arizona, 1 p.m.
Times subject to change
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Sept. 10 at LSU: This contest — an ESPN-televised tilt at Death Valley against a Tigers squad many expect to contend for the national title — is most definitely a defining game. Hey, Oregon State went to Baton Rouge last year and nearly pulled a big upset; why can’t ASU at least compete?
Sept. 24 at Oregon State: The Sun Devils’ Pac-10 opener is when coach Dirk Koetter and his staff aim to have all the offensive and defensive roles defined, all the early-season kinks ironed out and the drive to the conference championship in full gear.
Oct. 1 vs. USC: If you don’t know the reason this matchup is a big one, get a clue, or at least a preseason preview magazine.
Oct. 8 vs. Oregon: There should be points aplenty — the teams have averaged a combined 71 points in their last nine meetings — and the Ducks figure to be hellbent on avenging a 28-13 victory by the Sun Devils in Eugene a season ago.
Nov. 25 vs. Arizona: Speaking of revenge, the Sun Devils will be out for some in the annual day after-Thanksgiving game. Last year’s 34-27 loss to an awful Wildcats team was as palatable as a dry turkey sandwich.
BY THE NUMBERS
2-12 ASU’s record against ranked opponents in four seasons under Dirk Koetter. The two wins: at No. 6 Oregon in 2002 and against 16thranked Iowa last year.
3 Points the Sun Devils outscored their opponents by (89-86) in the fourth quarter in 2004.
84 Points two-time defending national champion USC outscored its opponents by (110-26) in the fourth quarter in 2004.
7 Players on the roster who have already earned their undergraduate degrees, which leads the Pac-10 and is tied for sixth in the nation. Miami (Fla.) has the most, with 11.
2 ASU teams in the last 17 years that went unbeaten and untied at Sun Devil Stadium — the 1996 Pac-10 title squad (7-0) and last year’s unit, which went 6-0.
41.3 The Sun Devils’ thirddown conversion percentage last season, a 10-point increase over 2003.
9 Sam Keller, 6-4, 233, Jr. 12 Rudy Carpenter, 6-2, 197, Fr.
3 Rudy Burgess, 5-11, 181, So. 24 Keegan Herring, 5-9, 181, Fr.
80 Derek Hagan, 6-2, 202, Sr. 18 Moey Mutz, 6-2, 178, Grad.
17 Terry Richardson, 6-1, 186, Jr. 89 Matt Miller, 6-2, 173, Sr.
86 Zach Miller, 6-4, 253, So. 82 Jamaal Lewis, 6-4, 226, Jr.
83 Lee Burghgraef, 6-5, 252, Grad. 87 Brent Miller, 6-5, 237, So.
62 Brandon Rodd, 6-4, 298, So. 72 Chaz White, 6-5, 332, Sr.
66 Stephen Berg, 6-6, 312, Jr. 70 Leo Talavou, 6-4, 362, Fr.
71 Grayling Love, 6-3, 301, Grad. 76 Mike Pollak, 6-4, 285, So.
78 Zach Krula, 6-7, 318, Jr. 73 Robert Gustavis, 6-4, 290, So.
52 Andrew Carnahan, 6-8, 292, Jr. 79 Julius Orieukwu, 6-6, 322, So.
20 Jesse Ainsworth, 6-3, 213, Jr. 28 Mark Merrill, 5-10, 179, Jr.
End 50 Kyle Caldwell, 6-3, 265, Jr. 99 Quency Darley, 6-2, 266, Jr.
Tackle 1 Jordan Hill, 6-2, 281, Jr. 92 Brett Palmer, 6-2, 287, So.
Tackle 96 DeWayne Hollyfield, 6-4, 273, Sr. 98 Shannon Jones, 6-2, 321, Jr.
End 91 Will Kofe, 6-2, 283, Jr. 45 Mike Talbot, 6-2, 242, Sr.
Strong-side linebacker 4 Jamar Williams, 6-1, 236, Sr. 54 Adam Vincent, 6-2, 238, Fr.
Middle linebacker 44 Dale Robinson, 6-1, 233, Sr. 51 Beau Manutai, 6-1, 265, Jr.
Weak-side linebacker 29 Robert James, 5-11, 215, So. 47 Nick Clapp, 6-0, 221, Sr.
Cornerback 26 R.J. Oliver, 5-9, 177, Grad. 21 Chad Green, 5-10, 181, So.
Safety 19 Josh Barrett, 6-2, 215, So. 5 Zach Catanese, 6-3, 219, Jr.
Safety 2 Maurice London, 6-0, 182, Sr. 7 Jeremy Payton, 6-1, 193, Fr.
Cornerback 23 Josh Golden, 5-10, 189, Grad. 31 Mike Davis Jr., 6-3, 184, Sr.
Punter 37 Chris MacDonald, 6-4, 215, So.