Junior college recruits can sometimes get overlooked by national powerhouses but coach Todd Graham continues to reap the benefits. And if you're in need of proof, look no further than former Blinn Jr. College star, Marion Grice.
If you haven't heard, Grice worked out better than anyone could have imagined last season. In his first year in the maroon and gold, the soft-spoken superstar lead the team in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and receiving touchdowns.
Fast forward to the present and it's pretty clear that Cameron Marshall's departure to the NFL will help Grice gain additional opportunities to carry the rock. That's a scary proposition too considering Grice played behind Marshall and DJ Foster at times and still posted 1,104 total yards and 19 total touchdowns. So how high should we set the bar on Grice?
The Hunch: Marion Grice will score 20 plus touchdowns, second most in the Pac-12.
You might consider this hunch a safe bet but it'll actually more difficult than most imagine. The underrated Texas native hauled in eight receiving touchdowns last season but with more wide receiver talent in the mix, few believe that total will be reached again.
But for argument's sake, let's say Taylor Kelly and Grice only connect in the end zone five times. Grice can easily make up for the decreased trips to pay dirt on the ground. In 2012, Grice got his number called a mere 102 times. Fort the upcoming season though, I figure around 225 totes seems like a reasonable expectation.
The increased responsibility will not only help Grice surpass 20 touchdowns, but it will also help ASU be a better football team. Coaches work long and hard hours to create mismatches and Grice can turn their game plans into reality.
The 6'0, 204-pound senior has a knack for exposing defenses with his bulldozing strength and dynamic open field speed. Grice's downhill approach allowed him to capitalize on red-zone chances nine out of 44 times (20%). For compassion's sake, the nations leading rusher, Ka'Deem Carey, registered a 16.8 percentage in the same situations. The numbers are slightly skewed because of sample size, yet it does certainly doesn't hurt Grice's candidacy to be one of the top ball carriers in the nation.
In spite of being criminally underutilized, Grice shockingly accumulated the third most touchdowns in the conference. Looking ahead to opening kickoff, Carey will be the only player left in the Pac-12 who put up more points than Grice with Oregon's Kenjon Barner moving on to Carolina Panthers. The Ducks' De'Anthony Thomas, arguably the fastest player in college football, tallied 18 touchdowns, one shy of Grice.
Sticking with the touchdown theme, I believe Carey will earn top dog honors, but I do think there's no question that Grice will be No. 2 in that category. Grice's only real threats are Thomas and the Unversity of Washington's Bishop Sankey. Sankey made the transition period from Chris Polk as smooth as anyone could have hoped, gathering 1,439 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 289 attempts. With as much respect as I have for Sankey, I can't see him matching or topping those statistics because I strongly feel quarterback Keith Price will be closer to 2011 form.
Another potential roadblock for Grice could be the brutal schedule. Stanford and Notre Dame sport two of the premier run defenses at the division one level. I don't expect the top notch level of competition to phase Grice much but it's worth pointing out he owns limited experience against Associated Press ranked teams.
NFL.com's Dan Greenspan buys into the hype surrounding Grice and counterpart D.J. Foster. Beyond Greenspan, there are some outside observers who think Foster will hurt Grice's individual numbers. But if you haven't noticed, I don't agree.
Even with Grice's incredible all-purpose numbers, I do recognize he's still second fiddle in the versatility department to Foster. With that said, Foster and Grice complement each other nicely and will act as tag team partners instead of roadblocks.
Grice may not be as versatile as Foster but he still would be the most versatile offensive player on most rosters. Don't believe me? Well, maybe hearing it form a man with a higher pay grade will help. Here's what NFL scout Matt Miller had to say about Grice:
Stash this name away for the 2014 NFL draft: Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State. Big, strong, dynamic runner/receiver. Total package.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 12, 2013
Even with Foster's talent, Grice's "total package" ability is going to allow both players to be on the field more often, not less. So have no fear, the scoring opportunities will still be there.
Throughout offseason camps and training programs, Grice has garnered praise from the coaching staff and already appears more comfortable in his second season. I might be higher on Grice than some but truly feel the possibilities are endless in terms of his 2013 season.
The most crazy part of it all though? If coach Graham and company accomplish their lofty goal of smelling the roses, Grice will undoubtedly be in the heart of the Heisman Trophy conversation. Now how's that for a hunch?