Over the course of the past three seasons, ASU has played an average of about seven true freshmen per season, a number that is likely to decrease substantially in 2011.
The small amount of true freshmen expected to contribute is partially due to a lack of options and partially due to a lack of need. In all, ASU signed 13 high school prospects in its 2011 class that will be on campus this fall but only is forced to replace four departed senior starters as well as cornerback Omar Bolden and T.J. Simpson, both out with potential season-ending injuries.
The main candidates for immediate time figure to be quarterback Mike Bercovici, defensive tackle Mo Latu and cornerback Rashad Wadood, while safety Ezekiel Bishop is an option as well. All other true freshmen either require development or aren't at a position of dire need to mandate that they bypass a redshirt season in 2011.
Coincidentally, the last time ASU played so few true freshmen was in the Sun Devils' 10-win 2007 season when Jonathan English, Omar Bolden and a true freshman wide receiver saw instant game action.
Number of rushing yards for Cameron Marshall – 999.5
Only two running backs since J.R. Redmond's tenure in Tempe have surpassed 1,000 yards—Delvon Flowers in 2001 and Ryan Torain in 2006. Marshall has been proven to be solid as a rock for averaging five yards a tote, but has yet to receive enough carries to climb into quadruple digits.
Much of this prediction lies in Deantre Lewis' availability as well as the ability for other backups to pick up the slack if Lewis is out of the lineup. Even if Lewis is unavailable for part of 2011 or even the entire season, players such as Kyle Middlebrooks and Jamal Miles are capable of picking up the slack. Also, ASU's offense is certainly more reliant on the pass than the run, so it is rare that any Sun Devil back will consistently carry the ball 20-25 times per game.
Number of games played by Deveron Carr – 5.5
Carr's first two seasons and his overall development have been greatly impaired by injuries. Not only has he had season-ending injuries in each of the past two years, he has also missed the subsequent spring drills on both occasions.
Last year, Carr was injured in the team's fifth game at Oregon State and was shelved for the remainder of the year. It is vital to the success of ASU's already shaky pass defense that Carr remains healthy and in the lineup for the majority of the season. If Carr is unable to surpass his games played total from last season, ASU will have even stiffer challenges against teams such as Utah, Oregon and Arizona.
Number of sacks for Junior Onyeali – 9.5
If Onyeali can follow the lead of ASU's most recent sackmaster, Dexter Davis, he will use a very good freshman season as a launch pad toward a stellar sophomore year. In 2006 as a redshirt freshman, Davis posted 6.0 sacks—similar to Onyeali's 6.5 as a true freshman last year.
As a sophomore, Davis became the first Sun Devil since Terrell Suggs' record-setting season in 2002 to surpass double-digit sacks with 10.5, helping him gain recognition that ultimately earned him a spot in the NFL.
With uncertainty at defensive end depth—specifically the departure of James Brooks—Onyeali will be required to be an every down player, giving him ample opportunities to pester quarterbacks frequently enough to total double figure sacks.
Number of games played by Deantre Lewis – 0.5
Essentially, this boils down to predicting whether Lewis will play or redshirt in 2011. The outlook right now is definitely hazy, but Lewis remains optimistic. Lewis will be unavailable for camp and potentially, at best, will miss the first few games of the season. As with any preseason injury that spills into the early part of the year, the crucial point will be when missed games begin to pile up and the most prudent decision is to shut things down for the year and redshirt.
Lewis has publicized his enthusiasm to return, so though he may miss time to begin the year, hopes are that he has the ability to return in time for ASU to dive into the bulk of its Pac-12 slate.
Number of games determined (either win or loss) by missed/blocked field goals or extra points – 0.5
For the sake of the sanity of everyone involved, I'll predict that this season adds no such drama.
Number of sold out games at ASU – 1.5
Not since ASU's 10-win season in 2007 has Sun Devil Stadium been routinely filled to capacity. Though it has been challenging—very challenging recently—to pack the 70,000-plus stands, the combination of intriguing home games and a potentially potent team may coerce fans to return to Tempe in higher quantities.
Barring a massive letdown against UC-Davis in the opener, the hype and magnitude of ASU's clash with Missouri should be enough to fill the stadium to capacity. Beyond that, some events will have to fall into place for additional full houses to occur but it isn't outside the realm of possibility. If the Devils can sweep through the first three games, USC should draw a substantial crowd in the season's fourth game. Lastly, if ASU maintains season-long momentum, its rivalry battle with Arizona may sell out as well.
The opener against UC-Davis almost surely will fall short of a sell out and ASU may have to carry an undefeated record leading up to games against Oregon State and Colorado to expect to reach capacity in those. If the Sun Devils make a run at a possible league title, the season finale against California could gain popularity—similar to the record-setting attendance notched at the 1996 home finale against California.
It's been a long time since Sun Devil Stadium was rocking with full force, but the ability of ASU's 2011 team should be enough to entice large crowds to make their way through the turnstiles for at least a couple games.
Number of ASU touchdowns taken back due to a celebration penalty – 0.5
One point of intrigue that could be costly for teams nationwide is the newly adjusted celebration penalties which, depending on the spot of the infraction, could cause touchdowns to not count.
It is human nature for 18 to 23-year-olds to let their emotions over take them, especially amid the magnitude of many of ASU's games.
Hopefully, this will be addressed as a point of significance among the team's leadership but the possibility exists that animated ASU players may make a costly mistake in this area.
Number of quarters fans will stay against Missouri – 3.5
Sadly, a "tradition" that has become as prominent as any other at ASU is for fans to make an early exit regardless the score of the game at the time. This is validated by some due to child care needs that disagree with ASU's late kickoff times, while many of the 20-something crowd seems to get particularly parched in the game's later frames.
Missouri's trip to ASU is one of the most anticipated contests Sun Devil Stadium has showcased in quite some time and the game's magnitude can impact the Sun Devils' entire 2011 season. Additionally, the national perception of ASU and its game day environment will be on the line as a national audience will be tuning in on ESPN.
If the Devils exit victorious, the stadium will remain full and perhaps spill onto the field, but a decisive losing effort may witness ASU fans making a premature departure—a decision that certainly wouldn't shine in front of a national TV audience.
Number of ASU wide receivers with at least 25 receptions – 4.5
Last year, six players at the wide receiver position totaled 25 or more receptions but one graduated and one is likely out for the year due to injury, leaving two substantial holes to fill.
In this circumstance, the question that surfaces is whether the distribution will remain spread or if the top receivers will get a greater bulk of the receptions.
Mike Willie (36 catches in 2010), Gerell Robinson (29), Aaron Pflugrad (29) and Jamal Miles (25) likely will be the top four options at receiver, but the depth behind them is unproven. Likely candidates for a greater role this year are senior George Bell, junior A.J. Pickens, sophomore J.J. Holliday and Kevin Anderson, though Bell, Pickens and Holliday only combined for 12 receptions in 2010 and Anderson redshirted.
At this point, the safest bet is that the top four will greatly increase their totals—Willie and Robinson may double their receptions marks—and the depth players will contribute, but not quite at the level of their predecessors.
Total receptions by ASU's tight ends – 2.5
It has to get better, right?
In 2010, Trevor Kohl caught two passes on the year—and that was it for ASU's tight ends.
This season, it appears as though the staff is trying to get more creative to get Christopher Coyle involved in the offense, as he has a solid reputation as a receiver from his high school days.
Number of first-team All-Pac-12 selections for ASU – 3.5
Though all-conference caliber players may emerge, at this point only three players—linebacker Vontaze Burfict, center Garth Gerhart and defensive end Junior Onyeali—appear to have first-team potential. If Omar Bolden was not injured, ASU could very likely supply four first-teamers but due to his injury, only three are viable options.
Number of times announcers will reference Vontaze Burfict being a "hot head" or having a habit of drawing penalties – Infinity
Sadly, this is a stigma that Burfict will be unable to shake even if his actions on the field are of the Boy Scout or choir boy nature. Though Sun Devil fans are well aware of his maturation this offseason, his reputation of volatility unfortunately will carry into his junior season. In this case, it will be made scientifically possible to exceed infinity.
Number of road wins for ASU – 2.5
Though it seems strange to suggest that the Sun Devils may have a losing road record amid what is expected to be a nine or 10-win season, many of the most fiercely challenging games come away from Sun Devil Stadium. Basically, for ASU to have the caliber of season that many are hoping for, a winning road record is a must.
ASU will take five road trips in 2011, with two (UCLA and Washington State) as games that should give Sun Devil fans substantial confidence. The other three (Illinois, Utah and Oregon) are tough matchups and/or environments that ASU will have to overcome.
Since Dennis Erickson's arrival in 2007, ASU has won only seven road games and Erickson's debut season was the only year the Sun Devils had a winning record away from Tempe.
Playing in Autzen stadium cannot be counted as a win for ASU, while a first-time trip for this Sun Devil team to Salt Lake City provides its challenges as well. Lastly, despite substantial personnel losses from 2010, Illinois was a bowl team last year and prides itself on tough Big Ten football.
In all, the Devils should be able to take down Illinois but likely will come up short against the Ducks. Utah remains a wild card, but ASU should have enough talent to post a winning road record this season.
Number of wins by ASU – 8.5
The big question on Sun Devil fans' minds: Will ASU live up to its preseason expectations?
By most accounts, the Devils are predicted to finish in the eight to 10-win range, obviously a remarkable improvement over the outcomes of the past three seasons.
However, as any of Sparky's supporters will tell you, a caveat of being a Sun Devil fan is expecting that things do not always go as planned. Will that mean that ASU will flop and disappoint in 2011? Certainly not, but the Devils have a challenging schedule and will have to prove that situations of self-sabotage that have plagued the team recently can be overcome.
When it is all said and done, this will be the year that ASU works past its self-inflicted wounds, rights all the wrongs and lives up to its preseason hype.
Number of Pac-12 bowl participants – 6.5
In 2011, the Pac-12 has a total of seven postseason bowl arrangements but due to USC's bowl ineligibility, the league's middle-tier parity and general unpredictability, the conference may struggle to fill those spots with eligible teams.
Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State and Utah appear to be four teams that would tremendously disappoint to not participate in the postseason this year. Conversely, Colorado, UCLA and Washington State would be surprises to play beyond the regular season and of course, USC is ineligible for a bowl appearance.
Ultimately, the four team group of Arizona, California, Oregon State and Washington includes squads that could finish on either side of the eligibility line.
In the end, the Wildcats and Huskies will sneak into the postseason and join the aforementioned four teams as bowl game participants, leaving one spot open among the Pac-12's assigned bowls.
Number of Pac-12 head coaches fired at the end of the season – 1.5
ASU's Dennis Erickson, Arizona's Mike Stoops, California's Jeff Tedford, UCLA's Rick Neuheisel and Washington State's Paul Wulff, to different degrees, can fairly be considered to be on the "hot seat" in 2011.
Erickson's status is well known after three consecutive seasons without a bowl appearance, while rival Arizona ended 2010 in poor fashion and may have missed its window of opportunity to battle for a conference championship. Also, the Wildcats face a daunting early season schedule this year which could sink momentum.
California has consistently underachieved and failed to reach bowl eligibility in 2010, UCLA has been a non-factor despite solid recruiting and general appeal and Washington State hasn't been able to rise above being the Pac's bottom-feeding team.
Ultimately, I believe only Neuheisel will be relieved of his duties after the 2011 season as the Bruins will fail to meet bowl eligibility and finish near the cellar of the Pac-12 South. Though UCLA landed five-star quarterback Brett Hundley last year and has 1,000-yard rusher Johnathan Franklin, the offense still lacks notable firepower. Most of all, the Bruins generally have yet to be able to compete with USC in recruiting or on the field—despite the Trojan's limitations due to NCAA sanctions—a factor that makes even the strongest inhabitants of the Rose Bowl want to wilt.
ASU should live up to expectations as a Pac-12 South contender, Arizona may have enough in its tank to squeeze into the postseason, California is unlikely to deviate from Tedford and WSU has improved in recruiting and has some key figures that could enable the Cougars to compete for a bowl game in 2012.
Win streak for USC over ASU on Sept. 25 – 11.5
Basically, will ASU beat USC? The Sun Devils haven't taken down the Trojans since 1999, so a USC victory would make 12 consecutive for the Men of Troy over the Devils. With the game taking place in Tempe early in the season and USC having to integrate a several young players, the Devils have a great opportunity to cut the cord on USC's stranglehold that has lasted over a decade.
Difference in win total between the first and fourth place teams in the Pac-12 South – 3.5
Whether it's ASU or USC, the two most likely takers of the South, the win total may most likely cap off at nine victories. However, the fourth-place team, potentially Arizona based on the media's beliefs, may have just enough gusto to reach a fourth straight bowl appearance at 6-6, putting a three-game difference between the first and fourth place teams.
Difference in win total between the first and third place teams in the Pac-12 North – 4.5
With significantly less parity than in the South, the North division is severely top heavy. Oregon and Stanford figure to remain strong candidates for BCS appearances, however the options from there are very uncertain. Washington appears to be the most plausible option to finish third, but may not exceed seven wins while Oregon has the components to produce another undefeated regular season.
Number of Pac-12 teams in BCS bowl games – 1.5
There are very few concerns whether Oregon is equipped to make its third straight BCS game appearance, though there is slight uncertainty about Stanford's ability to return due to major personnel and coaching staff losses. Teams such as ASU or even Utah could be sleepers in the conference title race, but in the end I believe Stanford will fall just short a second BCS game appearance with a 10-win season.
In the end, the Big Ten (Nebraska and Wisconsin), Big XII (two of Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M) SEC (two of Alabama, LSU and South Carolina) will have multiple BCS participants, while the ACC (Florida State), Big East (West Virginia) and Pac-12 (Oregon) will send one team, in addition to Boise State, which will survive its only challenges of the year in home games against Georgia and TCU to return to the BCS picture. Notre Dame could also be an option, as Brian Kelly appears to have the program back on a stable track and the Irish certainly have an advantageous arrangement with the BCS.
Number of Pac-12 teams in the BCS National Championship game – 0.5
After a tough victory over LSU in Cowboys Stadium to start the year, Oregon will withstand challenges from ASU, Stanford and USC to complete the regular season undefeated. The Ducks will again take down the Sun Devils in Eugene in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game and face Oklahoma for the BCS Championship.