Is there any added pressure having a national opening game to the season compared to a lower level opponent?
Not really and I say that for a few reasons. Todd Graham really only knows one way to prepare and that's very aggressively. He drives his program in the fast lane at all times, not just when he has a more challenging start to a season. If anything, I would guess that he may feel like after three years of developing the program in his image, he may be more inclined to back off a little bit given where things are at from a minimum standards standpoint. He said there are no longer problems in this regard. That's the second biggest factor with regard to why I think there won't be added pressure. This team returns a fifth year senior quarterback who has played in big games even though he hasn't yet been a full year starter. It also returns essentially nine starters on defense. There are a lot of leaders on the team, a lot of guys who are hard charging in their own right, and don't need motivation the same way the program did a couple years ago. Also, Graham's goals are always so robust, that basically every game at this point is viewed as a must win game for the team to accomplish its ultimate goals. Around the program you here a lot of talk about 15 wins. It's hard for any game to weigh on a team more than it otherwise would when that's the big picture perspective.
What are your expectations of a win / loss record entering spring ball (as opposed to season end / post spring ball)?
Very rarely am I going to ever predict that a team wins 11 or 12 regular season games, and in fact I've never done so to this point in my career and it's very unlikely that will change this year. It would have to take a lot of things coming together for such a prediction, including but not limited to: clear improvement on special teams; ASU's Devil backer and offensive tackle situations becoming settled in a way that is very promising not only for the future but also this season; multiple wide receiver options performing at a high level in August; Mike Bercovici not only looking as good as he did last year, but even better. Right now I would put an over/under of 9.5 wins on this team, which is about as high as any ASU team I've covered. It may even be a little better team than it was in 2014, but it's very hard to win more than nine games in any season unless the talent level is truly elite, and ASU isn't there yet even though it's trending in the program's favor.
Does this team have what it takes to win the South? The Pac-12? Get to the CFP?
Graham likes to say that to be a great team, there is a necessity to have a very good quarterback and a great defense. ASU has a chance to have both of those things this year and the game preparation and planning is also good with the coaching staff so it's certainly possible this team could win the South, and if it wins the South, in a one game playoff it could easily beat an Oregon or Stanford this year, given where those teams are at from a personnel standpoint. Seeing as how ASU plays at Texas A&M, at UCLA, at Utah, home against Oregon, USC and Arizona, it's going to be a huge challenge to finish with just one loss on the regular season, and that's probably necessary to be a Top-4 overall team. It's possible, sure, but pretty unlikely.
Are there starters you'd expect to lose their position due to incoming talent, redshirted players, or improvement from depth chart players on the roster?
Late last year ASU wasn't really playing a true Devil backer, but I do expect either Davon Durant or Ismael Murphy Richardson ends up starting there. If Murphy-Richardson is excellent it's possible ASU looks at playing Durant elsewhere and that could lead to a displaced starter, but I doubt that happens. Elsewhere on defense, it's possible Joseph Wicker could start as a true freshman at Tiger (3-technique tackle) but we won't know that until at least August. I don't see a freshman corner starting over Kweishi Brown at this time. On offense I don't see any true freshman starting but if it did happen it would probably be either Steve Miller or Zach Robertson moving into the lineup at an offensive tackle position. Incoming junior college transfer Raymond Epps or freshman tight end Thomas Hudson could start in two tight end formations but that role was voided by now-departed De'Marieya Nelson.