ASU Battles in Lincoln

I was impressed to see the way Arizona State came out and battled in Lincoln on Saturday. I have Arizona State pegged to finish near the bottom of the conference. They are replacing almost their entire offensive line, the top two running backs from last year, and a good portion of their defense. But the way they battled Saturday with so little experience shows me that ASU has the potential to be a player in the Pac-10 in two or three years.

Losing 48-10 is not necessarily something to be proud of. Anytime a team gets blown out like that, there are some significant problems. But the Devils hung tight through the whole first half in one of the toughest places to play in the country. Don't get me wrong. ASU is an awful team right now. But the potential they showed among the special teams blunders should not be lost.

The Sun Devils start 7 sophomores, in addition to their redshirt freshman starting QB, Chad Christensen. Their offense will lose only two senior starters, and no backups, at the end of this year. If their offense can take some steps in the right direction and settle on a quarterback, they could be one of the Pac-10's best come 2003, as long as Shaun McDonald doesn't take off for the NFL.

Speaking of settling on a QB, it will be a tough process for Dirk Koetter to sift through his signal callers. Christensen has the tendency to run at the first sign of a breakdown in protection (a.k.a Terrance Bryant disease). Staying in the pocket will make his offensive line's job easier. He's got a pretty accurate arm, and will improve steadily with more experience. His backup, Andy Walter, has great touch on the deep balls. He wasn't helped by the key drops in the second half. Andy Goodenough, the Corvallis High alum, could get himself into the rotation as he picks up Kotter's offense.

ASU has some talent on defense, too. They've got a sure-thing all-conference player in defensive end Terrell Suggs. He's only a junior, but he's the Pac-10's best end. With ASU's unconventional 4-2-5 defense, three safeties are on the field at the same time. The starters at those positions bring an incredible amount of energy. Alfred Williams, the most experienced of the three, anchors the defensive backfield. He is an aggressive player, who will sometimes pick up a costly penalty as a result of his intensity. Sophomores Jason Shivers and Riccardo Stewart were flying to the ball and making plays against the Cornhuskers. These two will make sure the ASU defense improves steadily this season.

ASU will probably only win four or five games this year, but they have a great shot at knocking off an overconfident team coming into Tempe (see Oregon State on October 12th). If the Beavers and others who come to Tempe aren't prepared, Dirk Koetter's team will give more than a solid effort and pull of an upset. I will be most interested to see how they perform in November. If they show some improvement as the year goes on, they will be near the top in 2003.

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