2005 Expectations – The Sky is the Limit

Going into pre-season camp, expectations for this year's Sun Devil football team are high. The question for many is how high is too high and what expectations are reasonable?

Coming off a 9-3 season that ended with an exciting, come from behind win against the Purdue Boilermakers in the Sun Bowl, many of the ASU faithful are looking to equal or maybe even surpass last season's success. The Devils return eight starters on offense (if you don't include QB Sam Keller, who started the Sun Bowl for the injured Andrew Walter) and seven on defense (including R.J. Oliver at CB). Without a doubt, the 2005 team will be an experienced bunch.

However, questions still remain. First and foremost, of course, is new QB Sam Keller. He showed great focus and poise in the two games he played at the end of last season after Walter went down with a shoulder injury. These two appearances have given Sun Devil fans a lot of confidence in the junior's abilities. That being said, Keller is still a new signal caller with only one start under his belt – albeit a start in which he led the Devils to a bowl victory and collected the game's MVP trophy. Pac-10 defenses will do everything they can to throw new looks at the young QB and try to confuse him whenever possible. How Keller handles these situations and whether or not he can avoid turnovers will have a major impact on the Devils' season outcome.

Another question is the running back position. With Keller cutting his teeth this year, an improved and consistent running game could really help the ASU offense. Unfortunately, the backfield is still a bit of a mystery going into 2005. Rudy Burgess will get the start at RB, at least early in the season, but will probably not get 20+ carries per game in order to protect his small-for-a-running-back frame. That means other players must "answer the scratch." Who does so and how well will have a major impact on ASU's offensive prowess. The maroon and gold fans witnessed what can happen against good teams with a one dimensional offense last year. They don't want any USC or Cal repeat performances in 2005.

On the defensive side of the ball, the major question mark is the defensive line. Two solid, if not all-conference caliber, players return in DT Jordan Hill and DE Kyle Caldwell. These two linemen form a nice anchor for the Devils' front four; however, they will need two relatively inexperienced players to step up and play well at the other DT position and the weak side DE position. The new starters won't have to be spectacular, especially with the linebacker talent behind them, but they will need to eat up space, hold their ground, and keep opposing OL's occupied long enough for the ASU LB's to run to the ball and make plays. If the new defensive linemen cannot do this, opponents will try to line up, play smash-mouth football, and run the ball up the Devils' gut in order to keep Dirk Koetter's explosive offense resting comfortably on the sideline.

Switching our focus to the conference schedule, the conference schedule makers have been kind to the Sun Devils for 2005. ASU misses Cal, the team picked to finish second in the conference by the Pac-10 media, and gets the mighty USC Trojans at home in Tempe. Furthermore, the Oregon Ducks look to be improved from last season and they, too, must make the road trip down to Sun Devil Stadium to face ASU. The two most difficult road games for the Devils appear to be at UCLA and a chilly November trip to Pullman, Washington to face the Washington State Cougars. And, because there really are no easy conference road trips, the trip to Oregon State and newly expanded Reser Stadium in Corvallis also looms large – especially since it is ASU's conference opener and USC comes to town the next week.

Talent wise, only USC and LSU look to be definite favorites in their games against ASU. The Devils stack up well or probably exceed all other opponents from a talent perspective. This means that the Devils' season outcome will land squarely on how their talent performs on the field.

I'm not into making predictions and I don't plan to change my ways now. However, barring major injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, it is hard to see how the 2005 Sun Devils should not win at least eight regular season games. If the Devils can match their regular season record from a year ago, fare well in the tough games against LSU and USC, and, of course, beat our rivals from down south, I will call 2005 a successful season. If 8-3 wouldn't make you a happy Sun Devil, your expectations may be a bit too high.

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