Five biggest strengths of Sun Devils in 2015

Expectations are perhaps at an all-time high for Arizona State as a program going into the 2015 season, with a handful of national analysts making the Sun Devils a trending sleeper pick for the college playoff. Why? Here's our take on ASU's five biggest strengths.

1. Experience -- It's difficult to achieve at the level Arizona State expects to in 2015 without some serious recent success that builds up a program's overall competency and preparedness. Well, the Sun Devils have won 10 games in back to back seasons and have as many as 13 seniors and seven juniors who could start this season. Most of those are returning starters and many of the others have extensive playing experience leading to this point. ASU has one of the best recruiting classes in history and yet almost none of those players will be on the two-deep. That would have never happened earlier in the Todd Graham era.

2. Team Leadership -- In terms of its transparently obviously habits and overall approach to being successful, we've never seen an ASU team on this level. The Sun Devils have 70 players who are scholar-ballers, which is unprecedented. The vocality of their leadership, headed by senior quarterback Mike Bercovici on offense and senior Jordan Simone on defense, is a sight to behold. It's easy to say all the right things and not have the habits that support such rhetoric. These Sun Devils say all the right things and then spend all day, every day, walking the walk. They will put teammates in check if they're not operating at a championship level in terms of body language, practice habits, training approach, lifestyle off the field.

3. Running back potency -- There is a very clear correlation between run game success and overall record. The offenses that can consistently move the ball in the ground game are much more likely to be successful. It allows offensive balance, keeps defenses honest, is a great way to control and dictate the flow of the game, keeps a team's defense off the field more. It's no coincidence that ASU's best teams in the last quarter century are probably 1996 and 1997, when the Sun Devils led the Pac-10 in rushing yards each year and went 20-4. The Sun Devils have a tremendous one-two punch -- and that's what it feels like when they carry the football -- with sophomores Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. They're two of the best NFL prospects on the roster and if everyone else does the job offensively, will have huge seasons.

4. Back seven capability -- Circling back to our No. 1 strength of the Sun Devils this year, there's a huge amount of experience in the ASU secondary and at linebacker and that should pay dividends this year. Senior cornerbacks Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown are both all-league candidates as is senior Bandit Jordan Simone, and junior Spur Laiu Moeakiola may be the team's overall best player on the defense when healthy. The communication of this group is very good, with only sophomore field safety Armand Perry being untested in his current role. These guys communicate very well and are on the same page, led by Simone, and that should help them avoid giving up big plays on the back end. At linebacker, junior Salamo Fiso is entering his third year as a starter and sophomore Christian Sam is one of the best overall football prospects on the roster. They'll all need to excel because ASU will remain a blitz-heavy team that requires extreme assignment soundness at the second and third level.

5. Game preparation -- One of the absolute strengths of the Sun Devils is how their scheme is built from the ground up to be versatile and attack-oriented on both sides of the ball. This allows coaches to dictate to the opponent, to adapt what they're doing based on the type of team they're playing, and tailor a game plan for each specific opponent. In terms of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent, and its situational tendencies, Todd Graham and his staff are among the best in the Pac-12. This is a perennial strength and major factor in what's led to ASU being in this situation in 2015.


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