Carl Bradford will lead the Pac-12 in sacks
A popular debate among Sun Devil fans this offseason has been whether consensus All-American Will Sutton or Carl Bradford will lead the team in sacks. Last fall, the duo's 24.5 combined sacks (13 by Sutton) was the most among any two teammates in the FBS. With Sutton's surprising return, they are primed for a record-setting season.
For me, I think the answer to the initial question is a clear one. It's Bradford for two reasons.
First off, Sutton remains one of the nation's most disruptive defensive presences, and while the duo presents a "pick your poison" proposition, nearly every offensive coordinator ASU will face this fall has Sutton atop their threat list. Teams will be game-planning to limit Sutton, and while Sutton proved he's more than up to the task, this should allow Bradford a bit more room to run.
Secondly, Bradford seems to be the better pure pass rusher. This is no slight to Sutton, but Bradford's development since Todd Graham's arrival has been remarkable. At 6-foot-1 and 241 pounds, Bradford possesses the speed, quickness and agility to wreak havoc off the edge, and the raw physical power to bull rush his way into the backfield. Armed with a year in the defensive system and conditioning program, Bradford should top UCLA's Anthony Barr for the Pac-12 sack lead and challenge for the national crown.
Marion Grice will top 1,300 yards rushing
In the first year of Mike Norvell's offense, the Sun Devils rushed for 2,670 yards, their most since 1996. The resurgence was led by the triple-headed attack of Marion Grice (679 yards), Cameron Marshall (583) and DJ Foster (493), but while the backfield remains loaded, one man should assert himself as the go-to guy.
In 1975, Freddie Williams rushed for 1,427 yards, and since then, no Sun Devil has managed to reach the 1,300-yard mark. Over than span, a Sun Devil has topped 1,000 yards just nine times, with Ryan Torain's 1,229 yards in 2006 being the high-water mark. There should be a tenth occurrence in 2013.
Over the season's final three games and through spring practice, Grice asserted himself as the team's starting tailback, and his versatile skillset is a perfect fit into Norvell's run-first offense. Foster and the now healthy Deantre Lewis will see plenty of action, but it is Grice's legs that will power the Sun Devil offense this fall. In doing so, he should go where no Sun Devil back has been in a over a generation.
Chris Young will be a 2nd Team All-American
While Sutton and Bradford will get the lion's share of attention this season, senior Chris Young should be a devastating force as well.
In his first season at the FBS level after transferring from the juco ranks, Young was impressive in posting 82 tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, two sacks and one interception. However, his production tailed off down the stretch, with just a half tackle-for-loss over the season's final five games.
With a year in the system, Young should build upon his debut success, but it could come at a different position. After playing at the team's linebacker/safety hybrid SPUR position in 2012, Young saw extensive time at Brandon Magee's former spot at WILL linebacker during spring. In either position, the 233-pound Young should continue putting up excellent numbers that should catch the attention of the rest of the nation.
The team will win nine games
After the surprising success of 2012, the expectations for Arizona State football are significant heading into the fall. Unlike most other times when the hype has been at this level, this time it appears to be warranted.
Fifteen starters return from last season's eight-win team
The key to the season will be the murderous four-game stretch after the season opener against Sacramento State (who themselves have defeated Pac-12 teams in each of the last two seasons). ASU then hosts Wisconsin before traveling to Stanford. They then return home to face USC before the marquee game of the year: a battle in Dallas against Notre Dame.
A 3-2 record during that stretch would bode very well for the team's chances of winning the Pac-12 South as some fans expect.
The way I see it playing out, ASU will emerge from that stretch 4-1, with a loss at Stanford. The other losses on the schedule will be a slip up against Washington and a road loss to UCLA, giving ASU a chance at their first 10-win season since 2007.
The Sun Devils will keep the Cup
Over the last four years, Arizona and Arizona State have traded possession of the Territorial Cup back and forth each year. Interestingly enough, the winning team has done so on the road. That trend doesn't bode well for the Sun Devils, who host the Wildcats on November 30th.
Heading into the season, ASU stacks up to be the much better team, at least on paper. However, as this rivalry has so consistently proved, all records and logic can be thrown out the window.
But trends are meant to be broken, and so too is this away-field advantage.
The Sun Devils should have a shot at the Pac-12 South on the line heading into the match-up, and with the Todd Graham-led mental toughness (perfectly displayed during last season's comeback win in Tucson), they should be able to hold serve, retain the Cup, and springboard their way into the postseason.