The Arizona State Sun Devils achieved greater heights than anyone thought possible in Dennis Erickson's first year as Head Coach. Setting the bar at such a level was a double-edged sword, as the Devils proceeded to fall further than anyone predicted in his second year due to problems on both sides of the ball which only recruiting and time will fix.
Arizona State had arguably the most disappointing season of any college football team in 2008. Entering the campaign as a top contender to unseat USC from their perch atop of the Pac 10, ASU failed to reach a bowl game and even tallied a losing record in conference play.
For the Sun Devils to going to rebound in 2009, the onus is squarely on the defense. Make no mistake, the defense is loaded, clearly led by Dexter Davis. The senior defensive end, who tallied 11.0 sacks and 15.0 tackles-for-loss in 2008, is expected to have a huge final season in Tempe. With Lawrence Guy also returning to the defensive line, the Sun Devils front four ought to be one of the best in the conference. The linebackers are equally talented with the return of Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel, who ranked first and third, respectively, on the team in tackles. The secondary has some rebuilding to do at safety, but corners Omar Bolden and Terrell Carr are now both experienced upperclassmen with tremendous talent.
Last season, Arizona State ranked 100th in the nation in total offense despite a four-year starting quarterback in Rudy Carpenter, a talented tailback in Keegan Herring, and a superb playmaker in Michael Jones. The problem was an offensive line who never got the job done and--as we know at Washington--it takes some time to rebuild that unit.
Carpenter, Herring, and Jones have graduated and on paper, it appears the offense could be worse in 2009. Dimitri Nance is a capable rusher and Danny Sullivan is certainly a solid option at quarterback. Sullivan is a strong-armed senior, and will have some playmakers downfield. Chris McGaha can pick up where Jones left off, and Kerry Taylor showed plenty of promise as a sophomore in 2008.
Four starters return on the offensive line in 2009, led by tackle Shawn Lauvao. If the line can give Sullivan time and create holes for Nance and fellow back Shaun DeWitty, perhaps there will be some improvement. We are talking about a lot of wishing, as this is an offensive line that gave up nearly three sacks per game during the 2008 campaign and paved the way for an absolutely awful ground game.
The special teams should be solid overall, sporting Thomas Weber, one of the nation’s premier kickers.
We all know what type of coach Dennis Erickson is: he finds a way to win with the talent he has. He recruits well and knows how to get the most out of his players when they hit campus. The challenge, however, is it takes 2-3 years to rebuild an offensive line, even for a miracle-worker like Erickson.
Most experts expect ASU to win more than they lose in 2009, with six-to-eight wins and a minor bowl game. Throw me into that camp, too. If they can solve some problems on the offensive line, the Sun Devils should be able to score enough points to let a very good defense carry them.
ASU was a team that Washington would have beaten with Jake Locker in the lineup last season. They are also a team that Washington has a good chance to beat in 2009, with the greatest challenge being the game taking place in Tempe. While I enjoy watching a game in Tempe, it is bad for Washington because Sun Devil Stadium is a very difficult and noisy place to play in these days. It makes Husky Stadium look like a morgue.
Going into this one the Huskies are probably going to be 3-3, so it is a must-win against a team they are capable of beating. I know I called ND a toss up, but winning in South Bend isn't a gimme by any means. If we arrive with at least a 3-3 record I am thinking we leave Tempe 4-3 with bowl hopes solidy in place.