It's the deep offseason right now, so we thought we'd put together some advance primers on the 2015 opponents on UCLA's schedule. We've already previewed Virginia, UNLV, BYU, and Arizona. Next up: UCLA's fifth opponent of the season, Arizona State.
Oct. 3, The Rose Bowl
2014 Record: 10-3 (6-3)
2014 Recap: For a team that lost its starting quarterback for a few tough midseason games, and that lost the majority of its defense from the previous year, the Sun Devils did quite well in 2014, competing for the division title right up until the final game of the season. Arizona State's defense developed as the season went on, but much of the credit for salvaging the season goes to backup quarterback Mike Bercovici, who, despite a tough first start against UCLA, successfully navigated difficult matchups against USC and Stanford to give the Sun Devils a 2-1 record without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly when Kelly initially went down with a foot injury. The Sun Devils were briefly in the hunt for a College Football Playoff berth after a big win over No. 10 Notre Dame on Nov. 8, but subsequent losses to Oregon State and Arizona derailed any such hopes.
Returning Starters: 16 (9 defense, 7 offense)
Notable Recruits: JC MLB Davon Durant , DE Joseph Wicker ,
RB Jaason Lewis , QB Brady White
2015 Projection: Arizona State is clearly in the upper echelon of the Pac-12 South heading into next season, thanks to a defense which returns virtually its entire starting group and an offense that should have a good deal of continuity, but there are still a few question marks heading into next season.
First, while ASU was arguably better with Bercovici last year than with Taylor Kelly, there's still a question how he'll perform now that he'll be given the reins for an entire season. Bercovici isn't the running threat that Kelly was, relying more on downfield passing, and that could force offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to make some adjustments to his scheme.
Second, ASU's receiver situation is not great. Jaelen Strong, the king of the back shoulder fade, has departed for the NFL, and Cameron Smith, who was expected to take on more of a starring role this season, was lost for the year due to a serious knee injury in March. The Sun Devils did pick up Devin Lucien, the former UCLA receiver, in the offseason, and there are a few other candidates to shoulder more of the load, but it seems almost certain that ASU's receivers will take a step back this season, which isn't ideal with Bercovici being more of a passing-oriented quarterback.
Defensively, though, the Sun Devils should be very solid. Todd Graham's attacking defense has been exposed at times over the years by tempo offenses, but there's enough experience on this side of the ball to expect that Graham should be able to field a defense that's right up there with the best he's had at ASU. Every linebacker returns, and two of three defensive linemen, so the front seven should be very solid.
The Sun Devils have a moderately difficult schedule this season. They open the year against Texas A&M in Houston, but their other two non-conference games against Cal Poly and New Mexico should be tasty cupcakes. Prior to traveling to UCLA, ASU gets USC at home, which should be a solid bellwether game for both teams. ASU does not avoid Oregon this year, but the Sun Devils do get the Ducks at home, and they avoid Stanford altogether. ASU should be able to manage beating Colorado and Washington at home with ease, and, on the road, the Sun Devils should be able to beat up on California and Washington State. The trick for ASU will be taking three of five from the home games against USC, Oregon, and Arizona and the road games against UCLA and Utah. If they can manage that, they should be right in the thick of the conference race.
Outlook for UCLA: It's a very good thing for UCLA that this game comes at home, because this will almost certainly be one of the Bruins' two or three toughest opponents of the season. Say whatever you will about Todd Graham, his delightful haircut, and his affinity for Britney Spears microphones, the guy can coach, and we'd have to guess that after the 62-27 drubbing UCLA gave him last year, he's going to be itching for revenge.
ASU will no doubt bring more pressure on Josh Rosen than any team before, since that's their natural setting anyway and Graham likely won't be able to resist blitzing a freshman quarterback as often as possible. Hopefully, at this point, Rosen will have dealt with enough of that from the first four games that he's better able to deal with it, but this will definitely be the best defense he will face in the first five games of the year.
We don't want to put too much on a game that's a full four months and change from now, but this one is shaping up to be a really significant one in the South race. Both teams project as top three teams in the South, and in each of the last three years, these two teams have been in contention for the division title until the final weekend. This year should be no different. If UCLA somehow makes it to 5-0 after this game, which is nowhere close to a sure thing, the Bruins will be firmly in pole position in the Pac-12 South, with just one more tough game against Stanford before a string of four cupcakes.
Next up: Stanford...
2015 Opponent Primer: Arizona State
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