Sunday, August 26, 2007

2007 Outlook

The off-season that never seems to end is finally coming to its conclusion as we are now less than a week away till the start of another ASU football season and this year the start of yet another Sun Devil Era, this time under the direction of two-time national champion coach Dennis Erickson. Coach Koetter was shown the door by the administration after his teams seemed to always underachieve, never living up to expectations, and couldn't win a game in California. Koetter's teams did have a nice winning record against the university in the south, went bowling more often than not, and had the Devils' football program ranked in the top 40 for the past three years overall, but in the end it wasn't enough to save his job and off he goes to the NFL to be the Jaguars offensive coordinator. Coach Erickson brings a lot to the table, besides his two national championship rings, and instantly renewed fan and player interest in the program.


The Devils' schedule is set-up for success this year (which is most likely part of the reason why Coach Koetter was let go prior to the '07 season). With 8 home games and only 4 away games the Sun Devils will have the home field advantage working almost every night, including the first 4 at home, and at least 7 of them at night. The 2007 season and the Erickson campaign open up against the San Jose State Spartans, led by former Arizona head coach Dick Tomey. The Spartans are ranked in a handful of Top-25 polls to begin the season and are certainly not a piece of pie. They finished 9-4 in 2006, won a bowl game, and more importantly return almost all of their star players...oh and Tomey knows what he is getting into at ASU. After the opener the Devils face Colorado & San Diego State, both of whom shouldn't pose to much of a challenge, and then open up Pac-10 play against Erickson's former team the Oregon State Beavers. After spending almost the entire month of September at home the Devils will take to the road to battle two sub-par Pac-10 teams, Stanford and Washington State. The Stanford game should break ASU's winless streak in the state of California as Valley Christian could most likely give the Cardinal a good game. Playing in the wasteland of Pullman at Washington State is always a tough draw but the Devils get a break this year as they play them in the first week of October when weather shouldn't factor in. ASU comes home for a two-game stand against Washington and then after a week off, California. The Huskies will be improved from last year but won't stack up to ASU playing at home on Family Weekend and the Bears on Homecoming will prove to be a tough test as they are priming themselves for a BCS run this season. ASU then heads on the road for a crucial two game trip to Oregon and UCLA and could do so with a 8-0, 7-1, or at least a 6-2 record. Oregon will also be looking at making their own kind of noise in the race for the Pac-10 championship when these two teams meet at the Autzen Zoo, most likely the loudest stadium in the country. Following the tough test in Eugene the Devils head south to Pasadena to play at the Rose Bowl against UCLA, a team who similar to Oregon, could finish anywhere from second to sixth in the Pac-10, as they have the potential and are returning a strong team but seem to lose a couple of games they shouldn't and finish the season in the middle of the Pac. The Devils take a week off and return to the House of Heat to face the other team from LA, the USC Trojans, in an unprecendanted Thanksgiving Day game on ESPN in front of a sold-out stadium. ASU has put themselves in positions the last two years to knock off the top ranked Trojans but failed to do so, last year at USC and at home in 2005 as they played host to ESPN Gameday. The Devils will then close off the regular season with the traditional game against in-state rival Arizona in what will be the latest date the Wildcats have played a game on since the 1998 season.


ASU's offense should offer a very balanced attack between the steller running back corps and the very talented and young wide receivers. Carpenter leads the quarterbacks as a Junior and looks to regain his Freshman form after his struggle with a nagging injury and the pressure hanging over him from the quarterback controversy are gone. Ryan Torain, a power back with speed, leads the extremely deep running backs after rattling off a 1200+ yard junior season. Keegan Herring will provide a change of pace in the back field as an extremely quick back who rushed for 550 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2006, setting ASU freshmen rushing records. Also in the backfield for the Devils are halfbacks Shaun DeWitty, Dimitri Nance, & Preston Jones. The receiving corps last year had a tough time replacing NFL starter Derek Hagan as the majority of the passes went towards the TE Zach Miller, who now also will be playing on Sundays. Besides Miller the Devils don't really lose anyone from their receiving corps who did any damage last year which should set up nicely for the emergence of some new Sun Devil star wideouts. Michael Jones, Rudy Burgess, Chris McGaha, Nate Kimbrough, and Brent Miller should all have much improved seasons as they have another year under their belts and looked sharp in fall practices. The Sun Devils' wide receiver of the future in my opinion is Kyle Williams. Watch for him to be a huge playmaker on Offense and on Special Teams. The Offensive Line returns all 5 starters this year and is the only team in the conference to do so which should make the job easier for Carpenter and his running backs. With Erickson's plan of spreading out the defense using a balanced attack of both the run and the pass, vertically and horizontally, the Sun Devils should put up some pretty impressive offensive numbers yet again.


The Sun Devils defense should be along the same lines as any other season, talented but not quite on that top level and therefore the offense will most likely need to bail out the defense in a couple of games. The defense has shown quite a bit of improvement already and will move a lot quicker to the ball and play with a tough physical attitude that will hopefully make up for any edge the opposing offenses may have on them. The DL is very thin but should continue to improve from last season with the addition of some new talent. The linebacking corps should be a strength of the Sun Devils defense as they return a handful of stud players who now have more experience after being thrown into the fire as freshmen and first year players last season. They also add a very highly touted junior college transfer in Morris Wooten. In the secondary more questions abound. ASU lacks a proven shut-down cornerback but brings in another highly touted recruit, Omar Bolden, who could make quite the impact right off the bat. At the safety position Josh Barrett is a stud who should contend for All-Pac and make receivers think twice about catching a ball when he is in the vicinity.


With the kickoff moving back to the 30 yard line under the new rule change fans should be seeing more kick returns for touchdowns this year and I'm predicting Kyle Williams will run for at least two of them. ASU is loaded with options for quality kick and punt returners and should give the offense good field position and even some points. ASU has to replace graduated place kicker Jesse Ainsworth who was almost automatic on field goals and could boot the ball to the endzone on kickoffs. Recently named the starter after an impressive battle at camp and fall practices is Thomas Weber. Weber should be able to handle the kicking duties as he has a strong and accurate leg but if he falters the Devils have a capable replacement waiting on the sidelines. Punting won't be a problem as Jonathan Johnson was among the Pac-10's best last year and returns again this year. His strong leg should prove to be quite the advantage for the Devils when the offense gets stopped.