Expectations galore, but no result for ASU football this season

The 2015-16 season just wasn't what Sun Devil fans had hoped it would be.

Expectations were higher than ever for ASU football's 2015-16 campaign — head coach Todd Graham called it the best team he's ever coached — but those ambitions eluded the team as reality's swift kick set in throughout the season. 

Reality's result was a 6-7 record in a year full of questions about the group's flaws, why they existed and how those holes will be patched up in the future. 

The Sun Devils sported a redshirt senior quarterback in Mike Bercovici, who looked promising during the few games he started in 2014. The defense, though youthful, gained valuable experience amidst the difficult Pac-12 schedule and looked primed to slow down opponents.

"We're playing for a National Championship right now in our heads every single day, whether that be in the film room, the weight room, or on the field," Bercovici said at Pac-12 Media Day in July. 

Bercovici threw for 3,860 yards while completing 60 percent of his passes. He also sported 30 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

Top performers by position:

QB Mike Bercovici: 3855 yards, 30 TDs, 9 INT

RB Demario Richard: 1143 yards, 7 TDs

WR Devin Lucien: 1075 yards, 8 TDs

LB Antonio Longino: 64 tackles, 22.5 TFL

DB Kareem Orr: 6 INT, 1 TD

ASU's offense, ranked the 31st scoring offense in the country, settled for 26 made field goals, which is tied for the most among the 30 teams ahead of ASU in that ranking. The defense, tasked with stopping opposing offenses lead by Jared Goff, Vernon Adams, Cody Kessler, Josh Rosen and others, gave up 33.5 points per game while allowing opposing quarterbacks a 145.0 QBR. 

The Sun Devils started with a highly-anticipated matchup against Texas A&M, which was further heightened because then-Saguaro receiver Christian Kirk committed with the Aggies over ASU. A close game was turned loose in the fourth quarter, resulting in a 38-17 Texas A&M win. 

After consecutive unexpectedly close wins against Cal Poly and New Mexico, USC traveled to Tempe. A manageable 14-point game turned into a 35-0 halftime deficit for ASU after miscues led to 21 points for the Trojans in the last few minutes of the half. 

Needing a big rebound game, the Sun Devils stunned running back Paul Perkins and UCLA with a 38-23 road win highlighted by Kalen Ballage's touchdown, which earned No. 1 on SportsCenter's top plays of the night. 

Two weeks later, ASU traveled to Salt Lake City for a game against the then-No. 4 Utah Utes. The Sun Devils squandered a late lead, and dropped to 4-3 heading into the bye week before a big home game against the Oregon Ducks. 

That Thursday matchup in Tempe did not disappoint, going to triple overtime. A desperate fourth-down scramble and throw from the Ducks' senior quarterback Vernon Adams, Jr. resulted in a touchdown in the back of the end zone.

It was perhaps the most thrilling but gut-wrenching game for ASU fans, whose team was on the verge of beating Oregon for the first time in the past nine tries. 

In the 61-55 loss, ASU out-gained Oregon 742 to 501 yards, including 344 rushing yards for the Sun Devils. Also baffling was the ASU coaching staff's decision to throw on first-and-goal and second-and-goal in triple overtime when the running game looked unstoppable all game. Instead, Bercovici threw an interception in the end zone, sealing defeat. The skid continued in Pullman, Washington when ASU lost to Washington State after the Sun Devils were outscored 21-3 in the fourth quarter, yet again unable to make the key drive or play to close out the game. 

Tables turned the next week when ASU scored 27 unanswered points to erase a 17-0 halftime deficit in its home win over Washington.

The Territorial Cup beckoned. Arizona's rivalry win in 2014 won the Pac-12 South, but in 2015, both teams struggled heading into the game.

The 52-37 win was capped off when ASU smashed Arizona's comeback attempt with two pick-sixes. 

Over Thanksgiving weekend, ASU found themselves with a 17-point advantage at the halftime over Cal. Again, they couldn't hold on, allowing junior quarterback Jared Goff to throw for 542 yards and five touchdowns, and Cal won 48-46.

ASU drew the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl at Chase Field, which was an opportunity to play a theoretical home game and end a disappointing year on a high note. However, the game's ending seemed to be a microcosm of the season. 

The Sun Devils started slow, then took a late lead with a Gary Chambers 58-yard touchdown. However, the coaching staff decided to not attempt a 2-point conversion, which would have made it a three-point game. 

West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard led his team on a 10-play, 75-yard drive that included a converted third-and-22 handoff, taking a 43-42 lead with 2:19 left. ASU couldn't score again, and it fell to 6-7.

But now, questions loom. Spring football's biggest focus will be on the three-man quarterback battle between redshirt freshman Manny Wilkins, freshman Brady White and freshman Bryce Perkins.

The team will have to replace graduating seniors in the secondary and offensive line.

In addition, all eyes will be trained on new commits, especially Chandler High School's five-star commit N'Keal Harry and four-star Chase Lucas.

ASU will look to fix the problems that plagued the team this season to better prepare itself for the conference gauntlet, which includes road games at USC, Oregon and Arizona.

Related Links:

Sun Devil Snapshot: Michael Phelps and Todd Graham made headlines over break

Report Card: Grading ASU football's Cactus Bowl performance

Reach the reporter at Justin.Toscano@asu.edu or on Twitter @justintoscano3

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