As with any team, ASU entered the season with expectations. And as with any team, some players and units did not live up to their potential. 2011 may be an extreme case of both realities as ASU's early season conference hopes fall apart to yield a 6-6 season. There are several candidates for this year's Disappointment of the Year, but a couple stand out.
The Winner: Vontaze Burfict
Burfict came in to 2011 with lots of expectations and was expected to handle the mantle as the anchor of ASU's defense. Unfortunately, he couldn't live up to them due to a myriad of penalties. The numbers (69 tackles, zero forced fumbles) show a decline from his 2010 campaign (89 tackles, two forced fumbles), though he did have five sacks and an interception in 2011.
To some extent, we as fans expected Burfict to compensate for any inconsistent play from others on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, the Sun Devils defense fell apart down the stretch and Burfict hurt the team with costly penalties time and again. Add it all up and you have a player who went from an All-American in 2010 to someone who didn't even make the 2011 All Pac-12 Conference Team.
Honorable Mention: ASU Defense
As alluded to earlier, the ASU defense stumbled down the stretch and played a significant role in the team losing its final five games. Prior to the Oregon game, the Sun Devils had had limited four of its six previous opponents to under 400 total yards of offense (with the only exceptions being Missouri and USC) and had a collective 5-1 record during those six games. At that time, it seemed that ASU was poised to win the Pac-12 South title and possibly challenge for the conference title.
Beginning with Oregon, however, the Sun Devils failed to hold any of their final seven opponents to under 400 yards and went 1-6 as a result. It's unfortunate, and it leaves ASU fans pondering two big questions: why did ASU lose the ability to slow down opponents during the second half of the year and what could have been if they had? We won't ever get answers to these questions, but there is one thing we can say with certainty: the Sun Devils defense will need to tighten up defensively and institute more discipline to avoid another Honorable Mention in this section next year.