The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 51: Arizona State
Coach: Todd Graham (8-5, second season; 57-34 overall)
2012 record: 8-5 (5-4 in Pac-12 Conference, tied for second in South Division)
Look back: Todd Graham has been heavily criticized for his remarkably brief stays at various schools, but no one could question whether his first season at Arizona State — Graham's “dream job” — was a success. The Sun Devils clinched their first winning season since 2007 and the program's first bowl victory since 2005. More importantly, they defeated in-state rival Arizona. The payoff was a top-40 recruiting class on National Signing Day in February.
Offensive starters returning: 6
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 8
Defensive starters lost: 3
Key losses: RB Cameron Marshall, WR Jamal Miles, LB Brandon Magee, S Keelan Johnson, P Josh Hubner
Top returnees: QB Taylor Kelly, WR Kevin Ozier, C Kody Koebensky, NT Will Sutton, LB Chris Young, LB Carl Bradford, S Alden Darby
Strengths: Arizona State had the second-best defense in the Pac-12 last season, with the Sun Devils holding opponents to 351 yards per game. The unit returns eight starters from last season led by All-American Will Sutton (63 tackles, 13 sacks) on the defensive line along with LB Chris Young (82 tackles, 2 sacks) and LB Carl Bradford (81 tackles, 11.5 sacks). The secondary was tops in the Pac-12 in pass defense (168 ypg) thanks, in part, to the play of S Alden Darby (80 tackles, 3 INTs). Arizona State was second in the conference in scoring offense (38.4 ppg) with the help of quarterback Taylor Kelly (3,039 yards/ 29 TDs).
Weaknesses: While the Arizona State defense turned in strong overall numbers, the group will be looking to improve on stopping the run in 2013. The Sun Devils ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in run defense (183 ypg), which was a concern heading into the 2013 season. While Arizona State had a strong secondary last season, it does have to offset the loss of S Keelan Johnson, who led the team in interceptions (5) last season. The Sun Devils also will have to deal with the departure of punter Josh Hubner, who helped Arizona State lead the league in punting last season with 40.7 yards per kick.
Outlook: Arizona State's defense will once again be one of the top units in the Pac-12, but it will get tested early and often. The Sun Devils face a brutal nonconference schedule that includes games against Wisconsin and BCS runner-up Notre Dame at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The conference schedule favors the team, with five home games against Pac-12 powers Stanford, USC, Oregon State and in-state rival Arizona.
Sept. 5 Sacramento State
Sept. 14 Wisconsin
Sept. 21 at Stanford
Sept. 28 USC
Oct. 5 vs. Notre Dame
Oct. 12 Colorado
Oct. 19 Washington
Oct. 31 at Washington State
Nov. 9 at Utah
Nov. 16 Oregon State
Nov. 23 at UCLA
Nov. 30 Arizona