Many fans are feeling disappointed in ASU's class, but they're missing the effective job done by Coach Graham and staff
No Josh Dobbs. No Priest Willis. No Tyler Bruggman. No 5-stars.
After a madcap National Signing Day, the Sun Devils were left with plenty of steak, but in the eyes of fans, very little sizzle. The program missed out on a quarterback for a second straight year, most of Arizona's top players left the state, and the Sun Devils failed to land several of the remaining uncommitted recruits by day's end.
What was left was a class of 27 new Sun Devils, 10 of which are coming to Tempe from the junior college ranks. That large number of junior college players has, for the second straight year, drawn the ire of some analysts and fans.
The major recruiting services don't think too highly of this 2013 Sun Devils class. Scout.com lists ASU at No. 31, Rivals has the Devils at No. 32, and ESPN puts them at 42nd overall.
They certainly have a right to be a little skeptical. As stated above, there are no flashy names, there were several high-profile misses, and going to the juco well too often doesn't necessarily win favor in the rankings.
But for this 2013 Sun Devil team, this class appears to—as much as any class can "appear" to do anything the day after—be exactly what the program needs: A free agent class.
Plug those holes, boys.
Yes, in football you build your team over the long haul. In college football, it's through years of quality classes comprised of high school talent. In the NFL, it is built through the draft.
But as much as can be done through those routes, they can't always address every area of need for a team. In the pros, the quality teams plug holes and augment their core via free agency. The college football equivalent comes in signing talented junior college players. Doing so can sometimes show a program's desperation in trying to take a shortcut on a turnaround, but if used successfully, they can be what takes a solid team and makes them a contender.
ASU is hoping that their 2013 class falls under the latter category.
The Sun Devils aren't a team that is in the midst of a full-scale rebuilding movement. They are coming off a strong eight-win season, surprisingly kept their best player in All-American Will Sutton, and have a wealth of momentum heading into the new season.
Most importantly, they return the majority of their key players, leaving just a few holes for the team to address in order to give them a chance to make the jump from "upstart" to "contender". That allows them the ability to treat the 2013 class with more of an eye on tomorrow rather than next year, and based on their signings, that's what happened.
Let's take a look at where the current team stood prior to the influx of the new 27.
On offense, the team is set at quarterback, running back and tight end. The team loses the right side of the offensive line, but have Vi Teofilo and Evan Goodman to be in the mix to win those jobs. The depth of the unit is certainly concerning both in the short and long terms, but not (yet) a crucial weakness.
That concern was reserved for wide receiver, a group that continually failed to produce consistent results throughout the 2012 season. To complicate matters, the unit's two most productive players, Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles, graduated. With such a glaring need, the team made the position a focus and brought in five receivers.
At the head of the group is Jaelen Strong from Pierce College. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder tore up the juco ranks last year with over 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns in just 10 games, and he figures to quickly become a top target for ASU. The Sun Devils also brought in another juco standout in the 6-foot-4 Joe Morris, as well as a pair of dynamic, elusive and speedy threats from the high school ranks in Cameron Smith and Ronald Lewis.
That will work.
How about on defense? There's not too many holes on what was the nation's 27th ranked defense with eight returning starters, but that didn't stop the team from addressing them, either this year or with an eye towards the future.
Two of those three come in the secondary, and the Sun Devils landed a very talented player in Damarious Randall, a highly productive and decorated juco transfer that is being brought in to challenge for Keelan Johnson's old spot at field safety. Cornerback Solomon Means gives depth to a spot that has been perilously thin, and will be replacing departed starter Deveron Carr.
Face of the program Brandon Magee is the only loss among the front seven, but returning starters Chris Young and Steffon Martin will be seniors in 2013. To help bolster the 'backers, five of them were signed, including juco transfers Antonio Longino and Eriquel Florence, and a trio of talented high schoolers in Chans Cox and A.J. and Viliami Latu.
Up front, the nation's fifth-ranked juco player, Marcus Hardison was brought in to play with Will Sutton for a year before taking his job in 2014. Not too shabby.
On special teams, ASU lost Josh Hubner to the NFL, but signed Matt Haack to fill that role. One punter out, one punter in. Efficient. Problem solved. Hopefully.
Only time will tell what the ultimate grade for this class will be, but for now, the team has addressed their immediate needs...on paper. We saw last year that Todd Graham and staff aren't merely content (as some previous staffs may have been) with bringing in talent. They work diligently to develop them and to ensure that they get better every day.
With the newest additions to the roster, the 2013 Sun Devils are looking to be a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 South race.
We'll know how far these new Sun Devils can help the team run starting in 212 days.