The Pac-12 may not be the best conference in college football, but a strong argument can be made that it’s the most interesting conference top-to-bottom. A team that seems to be stuck in middle of the road every season is Arizona State. ASU has struggled to make it from a slightly above average team to a good team, let alone growing to a great team. Are they ready for the that next step?
It is not like the Sun Devils have not been talented in recent years. Last season, ASU had over 30 players on NFL rosters. Those players include the likes of former NFL Defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs and young stud linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
This season, junior Carl Bradford is listed on the Butkus and Bednarik Award preseason watch list. Will Sutton is listed on the Rotary Lombardi and the Outland Trophy preseason award watch list. Tight end Chris Coyle is listed on the John Mackey preseason award watch list. Running back Ka’Deem Carey Jr. is on the preseason Doak Walker, Walter Camp, and Maxwell award watch list. Taylor Kelly is on the Davey O’Brien preseason watch list. Alden Darby Sr. is on the Jim Thorpe award preseason list.
Talent is not the problem at ASU. Second-year coach Todd Graham has to turn that talent in to dominance on the field on Saturdays. The team struggled last season to finish games late at times. The Devils could not close out UCLA at home last season and struggled late against Oregon.
This is the year ASU could take the step the program has waited so long for, the chance to compete for a BCS Bowl berth. Usually around early November the team is already out of contention for a shot at the Rose Bowl. Come November 2013 the team wants to be setting itself up for a chance to play in the Pac-12 Championship game.
Not to over-simplify the matter, but the difference has to be Graham. College football is dominated by quality coaches. What was Alabama before Nick Saban walked through the door? Ohio State has new hope they can compete nationally because of Urban Meyer. Oklahoma and Texas stay at or near the top of the Big 12 due to Bob Stoops and Mack Brown. Stanford didn’t skip a beat when Jim Harbaugh left because David Shaw proved himself to be a quality coach.
Friday is Pac-12 media day, and many questions will be asked of all the coaches, the fact is none of the answers Friday will truly matter. Graham is an excellent communicator — that’s how he’s had so many jobs in such a short time span. He can sell himself. The question is whether or not he can coach at an elite level.
This season will begin to answer that question.
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