2012 Breakout Candidate: ASU Safety Ezekiel Bishop

3rd and 29.

Say that around an Arizona State fan and there's an equal chance they'll burst into tears or unleash a stream of expletives.

The scene: ASU, 6-2 on the season and in total control of the Pac-12 South, was facing off against UCLA, a wildly inconsistent mess at 4-4. With a win, the Sun Devils would in essence clinch the South.

The Devils clung to a 28-23 lead late in the game, and had the Bruins backed up facing a 3rd and 29 from the ASU 39. A stop here likely means a division title...

However, Kevin Prince found Nelson Rosario, who beat Alden Darby's coverage for a 33-yard gain, and three plays later UCLA scores the game-winning touchdown, and would go on to win the South division.

The lapse on that play set off the eventual skid that derailed ASU's once promising season, and the subsequent failure in the secondary proved to be the primary culprit in the team's five-game losing streak. Over the final four games after their 3rd and 29 embarrassment, ASU was torched for 1,431 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air.

Although far from the only reasons, injuries were a major factor in the unit's eventual ineffectiveness. The team lost 2010 All-Pacific-10 Conference First-Team cornerback Omar Bolden in April to an ACL injury and up-and-coming cornerback Devan Spann for the year in fall camp.

The team also lost a true freshman safety to a torn ACL in the season opener that proved to be a costly loss, but his comeback could play a major role in the unit's resurgence this fall.

Ezekiel Bishop came to ASU as a three-star prospect last year after being a prior commit to Arizona, in addition to receiving offers from Colorado and Kansas State, among others. He was a very versatile performer in high school, seeing time as primarily as a linebacker but also at defensive back, running back and as a kick returner. That versatility led Rivals.com to rank Bishop as the 55th best athlete in the nation [Check out his highlight reel].

At 5'10" and 175-pounds, Bishop is undersized, but compensates for that by possessing great closing speed and the hitting power of a prototypical middle linebacker. It is that skill set, combined with a tremendous work ethic, that led Bishop to be on the active roster last season as a true freshman.

Sadly, Bishop would get little chance to contribute to the Sun Devils. In the opener against UC Davis, Bishop was playing on the kickoff unit when he tore his ACL, knocking him out for the year. There was a silver lining due to the fact that the injury occurred so early, as it allowed Bishop to use his redshirt season, as well as get a head start on the rehab.

The 2012 season presents a great opportunity for Bishop to become a valuable part of the Sun Devil defense. The new defensive system being implemented places a premium on attacking and aggressive defenders, which suits Bishop's skills perfectly. With both starting safeties from a year ago--Eddie Elder and Clint Floyd--having graduated, there is a chance to see significant time. It's not hard to imagine Bishop flourishing in a rover type role when ASU will go to a nickel alignment.

Unfortunately, Bishop will miss spring practices, set to begin on March 13th. This should allow returning safeties such as Darby and Keelan Johnson to get a leg up, and with two highly touted members of the 2012 recruiting class on their way this fall in Chris Young and Laiu Moeakiola, the competition for playing time at safety will be fierce.

But for a defensive looking to shake the letdown of a year ago and replace it with a ferocious and physical new identity, Ezekiel Bishop is an ideal fit.

Follow me on Twitter @BDenny29 for the latest on ASU football

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