Sun Devil football will improve in upcoming seasons

As ASU football enters a transitional year, we should expect to start seeing positive changes this fall

Following two years with losing records, the Sun Devils should expect to see increasing success in the next few seasons.

During the 2016 season, ASU football went 5-7 for the season and 2-7 against its Pac-12 opponents, making the team ineligible to compete in a bowl game for the first time since 2010.

One factor that largely contributed to this unsatisfactory record was injury, namely with the unfortunate injuries of first and second string quarterbacks Manny Wilkins and Brady White early in the season.

“After a reasonably strong start, a combination of injuries, the quarterback situation and just the overall talent issue contributed to their inability to put together a successful season,” said Chris Karpman, publisher of SunDevilSource.com on the Scout network.

However, despite the disappointments from last season, there is a lot about Sun Devil football to look forward to starting this fall.

Exciting additions to head coach Todd Graham’s coaching staff include Phil Bennett as defensive coordinator and Billy Napier as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

In his time at ASU, Graham has spread himself too thin with juggling his responsibilities as head coach and taking charge of making defensive play-calls. Bennett will therefore be a large benefit, as he was one of Graham’s coaching mentors early in his career, making him “a person that Todd Graham has confidence in (taking) over a lot of that responsibility” with the defense, according to Karpman.

Napier, former wide receiver coach at Alabama, is making a number of changes to last season's offensive strategy, such as more tight end usage, that will hopefully create greater success for the Sun Devils.

Another promising asset the Sun Devils will have next season is redshirt sophomore quarterback Blake Barnett, a transfer from Alabama. Especially when a talented quarterback is so integral to the success of a team, the ongoing competition for the starting position between him and returning quarterback Manny Wilkins is undoubtedly pushing both hopefuls to their fullest potential.

“You almost definitely have to have a great quarterback in order to be among the best teams in the league like the Pac-12,” Karpman said. “To accomplish that, as a coaching staff, your goal is really to recruit very successfully so that you have three or four or five options who are all well-regarded. Blake Barnett is an additional piece that gives them increased talent and competition there.”

The Sun Devils are certainly a maturing team at the moment with a lot of young, building talent on the roster, most notably with their offensive line. Right now, the line has predominantly freshman, sophomores and juniors on the roster — however, as we see more of these players become multi-year starters in the next few seasons, we will also see a much more efficient offensive line.

In addition, redshirt sophomore wide receivers Ryan Newsome and John Humphrey will add both speed and depth to the team. With these two alongside returning sophomore N’Keal Harry, who set an ASU freshman record last year with 58 total receptions, there’s no doubt that we will see vast improvement in big-yardage plays.

On the defensive end, ASU has many talented, veteran presences such as defensive linemen Tashon Smallwood, Jojo Wicker and Koron Crump in addition to seasoned linebackers DJ Calhoun and Christian Sam. In having such an experienced defense, the Sun Devils should only get better as the season progresses.

ASU will have to try to overcome some tough hurdles come September like the loss of unanimous All-American kicker, Zane GonzalezThere’s also the question of whether a quarterback will be put into the starting position who can compete at the high level that a conference like the Pac-12 warrants.

Nevertheless, the Sun Devils are on the rise, and we should expect to see a lot of positive adjustments across the board, if not so much this year, then in 2018.

“(The Sun Devils) really had no chance from a talent standpoint to compete in the last couple years, but I think that talent level is building now,” Karpman said. “While this year is probably still a transitional year, if they can stabilize, get their secondary headed in a better direction, get a quarterback in place who can play successfully at this level, then 2018 really has a chance to be a much better season.”


Reach the columnist at alexwolfe3098@gmail.com or follow @alexandrawolfe_ on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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