Graham, ASU football exceeded expectations at 7-5

ASU football got the job done this season.

True, it wasn’t exactly the “Speaking Victory” type of season that Todd Graham was advertising all year, and the Sun Devils never reached the Pac-12 Championship game, or the Rose Bowl like they had scheduled for.

Before the season began, what more were you expecting? Let’s go over some of ASU’s accomplishments this season:

Finish over .500? Check.

Earn bowl eligibility? Got it.

Beat UA? Done.

Win on the road? Three times, including a pivotal victory in Tucson.

The Sun Devils capped off the regular season last Friday with a 7-5 record, one game better than last year’s team.

ASU had major issues coming into the season. The team was fresh off a coaching search nightmare, and ended with Graham’s transition to ASU from Pittsburgh that left the entire Panthers fan base upset.

The Sun Devils lost three of their best receivers to graduation (Gerell Robinson, Mike Willie and Aaron Pflugrad), and quarterback Brock Osweiler and linebacker Vontaze Burfict both left for the NFL. A starting quarterback wasn’t named until less than two weeks before the season opener.

Yet, while everyone expected this season to be a rebuilding year, it ended up being an improvement.

This Sun Devil football team really wasn’t supposed to be this good.

While fans stormed the bandwagon when the Sun Devils shot out to a 4-1 start, it was easy for them to stop believing in the team when they lost four consecutive games, which came against Oregon, UCLA, USC and Oregon State — all teams that were ranked at some point in the season.

Things could’ve been much worse. Like Dennis Erickson’s squad last season, ASU could have easily rolled over after the four-game slump, drop the rivalry game and lose-out the entire season. Though ASU was the favorite against UCLA (which ended the regular season at No. 16 in the BCS standings), the Sun Devils didn’t really lose to a team that they were supposed to beat. The Pac-12 was a much stronger conference this season, but the Sun Devils still managed to finish with the same Pac-12 record as USC.

And the biggest improvement of the season? ASU finished the year with the fewest penalties yards in the Pac-12 and 16th least in the nation.

The 2011 Sun Devils racked up the most yards from yellow flags last season in the entire FBS.

After the bowl game, ASU will lose its senior class that includes linebacker Brandon Magee, safety Keelan Johnson, running back Cameron Marshall, and wide receivers Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles. Will Sutton’s status for next season remains unknown, after the redshirt junior tackle was the recipient of the Pac-12 Defensive of the Year and will likely be selected early in the NFL Draft if he were to enter.

In the meantime, however, ASU returns a number of impact players in redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly, junior running back Marion Grice, freshman running back D.J. Foster, junior safety Alden Darby and junior tight end Chris Coyle. Not a bad core to work with for the future.

ASU fans should have a lot to look forward to for next season and beyond, but with the potential that Graham’s team flashed throughout the entire season, the Sun Devils can no longer finish lower than they did this fall.

Let’s see if Graham can lead this team to the “Promised Land.”

 

Reach the reporter at jnacion@asu.edu