What a difference three weeks can make.
From masters of their destiny atop the Pac-12 South to struggling for bowl eligibility in a sea of fan unrest, the Arizona State Sun Devils' season has been flipped upside down, and with a date with the USC Trojans on the horizon, it doesn't seem likely to get any easier.
Now three-quarters through Todd Graham's first season, we've seen plenty of highs, the more recent lows, lessons learned and questions posed
Over the next two days, we're going to review what the first nine games mean for the rest of the season and into 2013. Today, we'll examine the answers that have been given. On Tuesday, we'll dive into the questions that this season has either failed to answer or created.
But first, we know that...
Heading into the season, most of the attention for the Sun Devil offense was centered around a pair of dynamic seniors, running back Cameron Marshall and wide receiver Jamal Miles. Each was coming off a strong 2011 season and they appeared on a number of national award watch lists.
However, each has struggled with fumbles and ineffectiveness, and have been overtaken by a pair of newcomers as the go to weapons of the ASU attack.
True freshman D.J. Foster has been explosive in a versatile role, showing a refined game and surprising toughness. He leads the team in rushing with 393 yards and is second in receptions with 31 and receiving yards with 463, to go along with six total touchdowns.
After transferring from Blinn College, Grice got the season started off right with a 107-yard, three-touchdown effort in the opener and hasn't looked back. His receiving touchdown against Oregon State was his team-leading seventh of the year, to go along with his six rushing scores.
Grice will be back for his senior year in 2013, and he should team with Foster to be among the most potent duos in the Pac-12.
Discipline is Back
If you're reading this, you already know the discipline issues (principally, the lack of any) that the team faced over the last four years.
Coming in to Tempe, Todd Graham made reversing that toxic culture a top priority and it's paid off.
Most noticeably, the nation's most penalized team in two of the last three season's in now the fifth least penalized team in the country. Seeing such a drastic change in less than a year is remarkable. The team has also been much more focused and mentally strong than fans have been used to seeing, and while there have been the expected bumps in the road here and there, the overall success in both areas bode well for future growth.
The Tight End Strikes Back
After becoming something of "Tight End U" thanks to the prolific careers of Todd Heap and Zach Miller, the position all but vanished over the last two season, with just eight receptions for 76 yards coming from the tight ends.
That changed this year with Mike Norvell's offensive scheme and the talents of junior Chris Coyle.
Through nine games, Coyle has 43 receptions for 503 yards and two touchdowns. Playing as the team's "3-Back" Coyle has been a reliable target along the seams and underneath, and has shown a powerful running style after the catch.
With a year of experience in the offense and natural progression, Coyle figures to be one of the nation's best at the position in 2013.
The Defense Can Attack
Typically, installing an entirely new scheme takes a while to become truly effective, as a staff needs to bring in the right personnel to fit the plan. In switching from a passive 4-3 to a new aggressive 3-4, there was concern on how good the defense could be this year.
While there remain questions in other areas, one aspect in which the unit has excelled is making plays in the offense's backfield.
Led by the emergence of Will Sutton as a dominant beast, Carl Bradford and Chris Young becoming stars, and Junior Onyeali returning to form, the defense ranks second in the nation in both sacks and tackles-for-loss.
The best news of all? All four should be back in 2013.
Josh Hubner Will Be Missed
In most phases, the Sun Devil special teams have been anything but in 2012.
The field goal situation is as volatile as ever. Jamal Miles has shown none of the explosiveness that made him one of the nation's top return men in the nation, and the long snapping and holding have each been costly at moments.
One constantly great performer has been punter Josh Hubner. The strong-legged senior has been fantastic, blasting balls deep when needed (including boots of 66 and 73 yards over the last two weeks), and also pinning opponents deep (16 of 38 punts inside the 20).
With Hubner likely taking his talents to the next level, the Sun Devil special teams will face a near total rebuilding process next season.
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