ASU Football: What to watch for this spring

Donald Miralle

Arizona State may have lost its bowl game, but the Sun Devils have plenty to look forward to in the coming months.

Aside from a loss to a rival, a bowl game loss might be the most difficult result for a team to battle back from.

The toughest part about dropping the season finale is that there are no more games left to play. Teams must wait until September to get back on the field and prove themselves, and Arizona State is now one of those teams.

After falling 37-23 against Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl, the Sun Devils leave the 2013 season with a sour taste in their mouths and the realization that they need to be better in the coming year.

What does Arizona State have to look forward to in the coming months? Let's take a quick look.

Carl Bradford's NFL Decision

The Sun Devils graduate eight seniors on defense, but they have the potential to lose a ninth key player if Devil backer Carl Bradford decides to turn pro. Bradford is a redshirt junior who dominated Pac-12 opposition this year and was arguably Arizona State's most effective defensive player.

After posting double-digit sacks in his redshirt sophomore season, Bradford led the Sun Devils with 19.0 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks as a redshirt junior. Bradford thrived as an edge rusher and produced one of the most memorable plays of the season in the Sun Devils' victory over UCLA when he returned an interception for a touchdown.

Bradford has submitted paperwork to receive an evaluation from the NFL regarding his draft status, but head coach Todd Graham has said that he expects Bradford back for his senior season. If Bradford receives a first-round grade (which is unlikely), however, Graham said he will encourage Bradford to turn pro.

Losing Bradford would be a devastating loss to the Sun Devil defense because they don't have any proven candidates waiting in the wings at Devil backer. The position is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot and there's no way that the Sun Devils could replicate Bradford's statistics and impact next season.

A decision on the job status of special teams coach Joe Lorig

The Sun Devils' greatest struggles this season came on special teams and their issues were exposed once again in the Holiday Bowl. Arizona State surrendered a kickoff for a touchdown, missed a short field goal, and failed to make a difference in field position with its punting game.

After the game, Graham was quoted as saying that he will take a personal interest in the special teams issues and that they will be dealt with immediately. That means that special teams coach Joe Lorig could be looking for a new job in the near future.

Throughout the season, Graham indicated that the Sun Devils devoted more practice time to special teams than Graham had ever used in his previous seven seasons as a head coach. Still, Arizona State's kick and punt return games lacked any kind of spark, and the Sun Devils finished 119th out of 123 teams in net punting with an average of 33.18 yards per punt.

One of the reasons Lorig may see another opportunity in Tempe is his other responsibility as an assistant coach. Aside from his special teams duties, Lorig works as the cornerbacks coach and helped Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor earn All-Pac-12 honors. The cornerbacks were reliable throughout most of the season, so that's something Graham will have to consider if he does evaluate Lorig's job status.

Signing Day on Feb. 5

National Signing Day falls on Wed. Feb. 5 this year and Arizona State is poised to bring in its best recruiting class in recent memory. The Sun Devils have 24 verbal commitments including five 4-star recruits according to Rivals.com.

Arizona State currently ranks first in the Pac-12 with its 2014 recruiting class and if Graham can earn commitments from key targets like Hamilton High (Chandler, Ariz.) offensive tackle Casey Tucker, then the Sun Devils can rise further up the rankings.

The primary goal for the Sun Devils at this point in the recruiting stage is landing commitments from upper-echelon players because Arizona State has a full recruiting class. With fewer scholarships to hand out than most schools at this point, Arizona State is looking for impact players who can make a difference right away.

Spring Football

The 2013 season has just ended, and that means players and fans are already looking forward to 2014. Graham said that anything less than a conference championship in 2014 will be considered a disappointment and Arizona State clearly has its work cut out.

The Sun Devils will begin spring practice sometime in March and the spring season will culminate with the annual Spring Game on Sat. April 19.

Spring practices take on an even more important role this season than usual for the Sun Devils because they lose so many starters on defense. With at least eight starters moving on, Graham and his staff will rotate a significant number of players and perform a thorough evaluation of the Sun Devils' roster.

Many players from the 2013 recruiting class will receive extended looks for the first time since fall camp. Chans Cox, Marcus Ball, and the Latu twins are just a few names that the coaching staff will scrutinize this spring.

For coverage of all these events this spring, keep up with House of Sparky and follow us on Twitter @HouseOfSparky.

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