Taylor Kelly enters spring practices as the returning starter for the Sun Devils. - USA TODAY Sports
What a difference a year makes. Last season, few could have foreseen Taylor Kelly leading the Sun Devils onto the field against Northern Arizona. This season, hope springs eternal as the returning starter figures to take the Arizona State offense to the next level.
At this time last year, many of the pressing questions facing coach Todd Graham circled around the quarterback position. Arizona State needed to find an answer to succeed Broncos' draftee Brock Osweiler, and the Sun Devils did not have the slightest idea as to who would win the starting job.
Graham left the spot wide open through the spring and deep into the summer as he allowed a third candidate to leave an impression on his coaches and teammates.
That third candidate, sophomore Taylor Kelly, saw marked improvement throughout the competition and ultimately saw his repetitions increase.
By the end of the summer, Graham made a surprising move and selected Kelly to lead the Sun Devils' offense into the season opener against Northern Arizona.
Though his season was tumultuous at times (see four straight losses), the 6-foot-2 Idaho native persevered and led Arizona State to a Territorial Cup win and a Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl victory.
This spring, Kelly will command the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, but that doesn't mean his competitors will sit back and watch.
Bercovici and Eubank bring talent to the table, and they won't be content with giving spring practices anything less than their best efforts.
- Taylor Kelly - 241-359 for 67.1 percent, 3,059 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 134 rushes, 516 rushing yards
- Michael Eubank- 34-54 for 63.0 percent, 330 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 63 rushes, 223 rushing yards
- Mike Bercovici- (2011 Stats) 2-3 for 66.7 percent, 15 passing yards
- Taylor Cohan
In perhaps the most disappointing development of the offseason, the Sun Devils' brass was unable to land a quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class. Arizona State did receive a verbal commitment from Joshua Dobbs, but Dobbs spurned the Sun Devils on Signing Day and elected to enroll at Tennessee. Because of this, no new scholarship quarterbacks will join the roster and Arizona State must hit the recruiting trail hard to grab a quarterback in 2014.
Keep an Eye On: Who Stays
In the fall of 2013, Taylor Kelly will be a junior, and Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank will be redshirt sophomores. If the job appears firmly entrenched in Kelly's hands, will both Bercovici and Eubank be content with backing up a player who would have two full seasons left as a starting quarterback?
In all likelihood, the player that earns the No. 2 spot will remain a Sun Devil. Graham gave Eubank a taste of the field last season and though the move did not go as well as expected, there's something to be said for earning playing time.
However, it's hard to envision a situation where the Sun Devils have three satisfied quarterbacks. Graham relishes the luxury of working with three players who have the skill sets to be Division 1 starters, but would Bercovici or Eubank be willing to bury themselves on the depth chart instead of vying for a job at another school?
If a quarterback transfers, that would leave the Sun Devils in a position in which they would need to groom a walk-on such as Taylor Cohan.
Biggest Strength: Experience
In 2012, Kelly far exceeded the expectations of Sun Devil fans by throwing for over 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns. The sophomore was downright unstoppable against overmatched opponents and rarely made costly errors in games that Arizona State was expected to win.
Though Kelly had his fair share of struggles against ranked opponents, he rebounded with stellar performances against Arizona and Navy that gives him a little bit of breathing room as the starter heading into spring camp.
Freshman Michael Eubank also received valuable experience last season, and his athleticism and playmaking abilities are rare for a backup quarterback. If Kelly slumps or suffers an injury, Eubank appears ready to stand in and give the Sun Devils a chance to win.
Biggest Concern: The Future
While none of the three quarterbacks with game experience will be a senior this year, that does not make it any less unsettling that Arizona State did not receive a commitment from a quarterback.
If the Sun Devils receive a few verbals at the position for 2014 and the players back out like Dobbs, Arizona State could be headed for a world of trouble.
The immediate future looks exceedingly bright, but after this year, long-term issues of depth will need to be shored up.
What It All Means
The Sun Devils are in a great place heading into spring practices. Taylor Kelly's late success is a sign of encouragement that should give Arizona State fans reason to believe in this team in 2013.
If Kelly continues to evolve and Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell can open up the offense, the sky is the limit for the Sun Devils.
Of course, Kelly will need to develop a rapport with a number of receivers who didn't catch passes last season, but that's what the spring and summer are for.
If all goes well, Arizona State will break spring camp with legitimate hopes about a Rose Bowl appearance and much of those expectations are the result of the confidence this team has at the quarterback position.
2013 Spring Primer Series