WSU in Week 11: Arizona State

THIS SHOULD BE an intriguing season coming up for Arizona State. When they host the Cougs in Week 11, they’ll have at least nine new starters on one side of the ball.

If ASU wants to get a reputation as a school that reloads rather than rebuilds under Todd Graham, this season is Exhibit A with only two returning starters on D. Six of the nine, including Carl Bradford and Will Sutton, were either first- or second-team All-Pac-12.

But what could be really interesting this season is to see if the buy-in is just as strong as it has been the past two years. Graham is a 'my way or the highway' kind of coach, he's a yeller, and that so far has worked swimmingly with ASU hiring Graham to replace the far more laid back regime of Dennis Erickson.

When a team wins, as ASU did much of last season, Graham's coaching style isn't an issue. But when a team loses, as ASU did in getting dominated in their final two games, fissures can start to appear if players feel like, on top of losing, they're getting chewed on.

Take what Graham said about RB Deantre Lewis this spring, telling reporters, “If he came out here with a passion every day, the guy would be unstoppable."

Sometimes that kind of motivation works. And sometimes it backfires when you're dealing with 18-22 year olds. By midseason, once ASU plays UCLA, USC and Stanford in Weeks 4-6, we might have a pretty good idea if it's going to be an issue or non-issue in 2014.

ASU absolutely throttled Washington State last year in Pullman. But it will be a far different defensive squad this season. Graham this spring said he think the D will be better than expected and one reason is due to the play of walk on safety Jordan Simone, brother of Gino Simone.

Meanwhile, up front the Sun Devils are counting on JUCO transfer Dalvon Stuckey and fourth-year junior Demetrius Cherry (6-6, 298) to make an impact on the line. If the latter name sounds familiar, Cherry signed with WSU as part the 2011 class but failed to qualify. ASU also figures to heavily rely on the pass rushing talents of former JUCO d-end Marcus Haddison.

The Sun Devils return the offensive trio of quarterback dual-threat QB Taylor Kelly, rising running back D.J. Foster and wideout Jaelen Strong, who put together a strong 2013 season with 75 catches, 1,112 yards.

Of the three starters ASU is replacing, two come on the offensive line. Former 5-star tackle and Auburn transfer Christian Westerman is expected to claim one of them, while incoming JUCO center Nick Kelly mans the other. Two year-starter Jamil Douglas is moving out to left tackle this season.

Graham, meanwhile, has no doubts about his o-line or offense in general.

"Our offense should score every time they have the ball," Graham told ESPN.com this spring. "We're deadly -- our offensive line is doing a tremendous job up front. We're running the football better than we ever have before."

ASU signed six junior college players this past recruiting class in an effort to combat all the departing seniors. How well they mesh could mean the difference between winning and losing a few games.

Graham is also replacing himself as defensive coordinator with Keith Patterson from West Virginia. Graham says he will still be involved heavily in the defense so it will be interesting to see how the two work together.

Graham wasn't pleased with his special teams in 2013. It's unclear if those areas will be improved in 2014.

Add it all up, and it feels like a lot of high scoring games this year for the Sun Devils, win or lose.


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