1. Limiting interceptions -- We know senior quarterback Mike Bercovici is a great leader and high intangibles quarterback. He can make all the throws on the field and understands the game at a high level. If there's a question about his overall capability, it's a tendency to force the ball into tight places at times, or to make overzealous mistakes, instead of throwing the ball away or taking the check down. Last year Bercovici had four interceptions in 186 pass attempts, which is one every 46.5 throws, a relatively solid rate but still not as good as the top half dozen quarterbacks in the Pac-12. Odds are good Bercovici is going to throw the ball upwards of 500 times this year if he stays healthy. He's going to throw some interceptions and that's okay but that number can't start to creep up to more than about one per game, on average. None of the better quarterbacks in the league threw more than 10 last season. Under 10 is great. Anything 15 or more is a major problem.
2. Not yielding big plays -- A team can be very good 95 percent of its plays on defense and if an opponent runs 100 plays and the other five go for big play touchdowns, it's not going to matter. Across the country, it's common for good defenses yearning to be great to focus on not yielding the one play touchdowns. That's been a major emphasis for the Sun Devils this off-season. It's especially challenging for ASU because its head coach Todd Graham is one of the most aggressive defensive play callers in the country. That means fewer players to fit up the run on the interior, less redundancy, and more man coverage conflict situations in the secondary, hence, more opportunities to give up big plays. ASU's inside linebackers have to be nearly perfect with the way ASU likes to overload blitz and since six man pressures and its field safety Armand Perry is going to have to win a lot of one-on-one battles and not get caught out of position.
3. Establishing the run -- If you're ASU, you simply can't have talent as good as sophomore running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage and not take full advantage of it. If you look back at ASU's best football teams of the last quarter century, the 1996 and 1997 teams are at or near the very top and it's not a coincidence those teams lead the Pac-12 in rushing yards. As long as those running backs are healthy, they're going to produce if -- and this is the key -- the team's blockers, and in particular its offensive linemen -- enable it to happen. ASU hasn't been good enough in the Todd Graham era in this regard and the coaching staff knows it. But this year they have four senior starters along the offensive line and are experienced and mature. They have to physical wear on opponents better, especially because ASU figures to be less capable in the read option game with Bercovici under center instead of Taylor Kelly. Bercovici's got more potential as a passer but if the run game isn't there it makes it much harder on the offense as a whole, especially with a lack of star power at wide receiver.
4. Special Teams lagging behind everything else -- You aren't going to win the Pac-12 and contend for the College Football Playoff if you're bad on special teams, and ASU has certainly been bad on special teams in Graham's three years. He'll be first to say it. Now he's hired former Green Bay Packers coordinator Shawn Slocum to lead special teams and ASU has overhauled its entire approach from the ground up. In particular, ASU has to be much better at kickoff coverage and with its punt team. Odds are ASU won't go from bad to great, but it at least needs to be pretty decent on the whole, and maybe return a punt for more than five yards every once in a while.
5. Wide Receiver capability -- We know ASU has the running backs and a senior quarterback some believe to be as good as any in the Pac-12. We know it has a veteran offensive line with four seniors including three returning starters. We know that offensive coordinator Mike Norvell is a capable play caller and schemer. Will ASU's wide receivers enable the offense to be among the best we've seen in Tempe in recent years? Ever? That remains to be seen. Jaelen Strong has moved on to the NFL and Cameron Smith is out with a knee injury for the season. Senior D.J. Foster should be solid but he had more receptions last year than all the returning receivers -- other than Smith -- combined. Will Devin Lucien, Ellis Jefferson, Gary Chambers and Tim White step up to the challenge. We don't know, but we will find out.