#12.) Arizona State
What You Need to Know: It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Sun Devils in 2007. Though coming off two seven-win seasons, the Sun Devils always lacked the ability to win the big game. Becoming the door mat for perennial power USC in the Pac 10. Their coach in Dick Koetter was consistent and steady, but always seemed a notch below the upper echelon in the college ranks.
Enter Dennis Erickson. One year later, the Sun Devils are coming off a 10-2 season, a Holiday Bowl berth, and most importantly, the winning of critical conference games like Cal, Oregon State, and UCLA. The Sun Devils are looking to take the next step and contend for a Pac10 title, and they just might have the weapons to do it.
Offensively, 7 starters return among them QB Rudy Carpenter who has a shot, albeit a longshot to break the Pac10 career passing yard mark this season. The other skill positions are loaded with returning talent like RB Keegan Herring and WRs Chris McGaha, Kerry Taylor, Michael Jones, and Kyle Williams. The line is solid and experienced, but there is work to be done. After giving up 55 sacks in 2007, the line has to improve.
Defensively, 7 starters return as well, most notably, S Troy Nolan and CB Omar Bolden who has the skill, ability, and reputation to cause opposing offenses to throw away from him. The defensive unit from 07 finished 3rd in scoring defense and 4th in total defense in the Pac10. The unit holds the key to the 08 season's success. A strong performance like last season, which is probable, makes Arizona State a legitimate contender for the Pac10 and a longshot contender for the national championship.
Who You Need to Know and Their 07 Stats:
QB Rudy Carpenter: 3202 yds, 25 YD
WR Michael Jones: 46 rec, 769 yds, 10 TD
RB Keegan Herring: 815 yds, 5 TD
S Troy Nolan: 64 tkls, 6 INT, 2 TD
Game To Watch: There are two critical games for Arizona State which will ultimately decide if they play for the National Championship, an at-large BCS game, or just another Bowl. Georgia on Sept. 20 and @ USC on Oct. 11. A 2-0 sweep means they are in the drivers seat for a National Championship berth. A 1-1 split means they are a virtual lock for an at-large BCS bowl. An 0-2 run means they will need help to make it to the BCS.
They'll Do Well If...: The O-line keeps the sacks down, Carpenter limits his INTs and makes good decisions under pressure outside the pocket, Herring becomes an every-down type back.
Season Outlook: Most likely, Arizona State finishes the year 10-2 and 8-1 in the conference, though a win against Georgia is possible, just improbable. That resume and computer numbers should be enough for an at-large BCS berth. The National Championship may be out of reach this year, but Erickson and company have announced that Sun Devil football is indeed back.