As we finish our recap of the Sun Devils football season, we have one question left to answer. Who is the overall MVP of the season?
ASU started their offeason with the astonishing announcement that defensive lineman Will Sutton, the Tempe Tantrum, would skip entering the NFL Draft to return for his senior season. Not only was he the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, but he was the first ASU player to be a consensus First-Team NCAA All-American since Terrell Suggs did it in 2002.
Sutton’s 63 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, and three forced fumbles alone would give him MVP honors on this Sun Devils team. Heck, he had 2.5 sacks and 3.5 takedowns behind the line of scrimmage in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. But he did not win House of Sparky’s top vote. He was a close second.
Head coach Todd Graham is our season MVP. Wait? Doesn’t MVP stand for "Most Valuable Player"? But Todd Graham isn’t a player. In this situation, we’ll call it the Most Valuable Personnel award.
Sutton may be the best defensive lineman coach Graham has ever coached, but the Sun Devils were successful this season because they had the full package. They were a threat to score each time they had the ball on offense, had numerous defensive weapons and arguably the best punter in the nation.
Less than a month after he left the University of Pittsburgh and accepted the head coaching job at Arizona State, I took this video of coach Graham jumping around with the student body at an ASU basketball game. He won my heart on that night and won the rest of the student body’s hearts within the next six months.
The Sun Devils finished the season 8-5 and 5-4 in conference play. What impressed me is the fact that ASU lost four in a row, falling to 5-5 on the season and then coach Todd Graham got the troops back in order to close the season on a three game winning streak, including a bowl victory.
In 2011, former head coach Dennis Erickson ended his ASU coaching career with five straight losses and an embarrassing 32-point loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas MAACO Bowl.
This year was certainly a happier one for Sun Devil fans and they have things to look forward to in the coming years. Graham lead the Sun Devils to a road victory against rival Arizona and his new high-octane offense was a great mix in Tempe considering the team broke a handful of team records.
The maroon and gold had the 14th best offense in the NCAA, averaging 38.4 points per game and quarterback Taylor Kelly and running backs DJ Foster and Marion Grice will all be wearing ASU jerseys next season. Kelly was eighth in the nation in quarterback rating (159.9) and tied for 12th in passing yards per attempt (8.5). Grice finished third in the conference and 16th in the NCAA with 6.6 yards per carry.
On the defensive side, we already highlighted that Sutton and Carl Bradford won the title for the nations best sack duo. Of course the Sun Devil team is naturally talented, but Graham was able to unveil this team’s true potential. They were two close wins away from potentially making the Pac-12 championship game.
But not to worry, though the 2013-14 schedule doesn’t favor the Sun Devils, their immediate goal is going to the Rose Bowl.
Graham did more than just guide them through transition, he is beginning to set up a dynasty in Arizona. When is the last time this team had a chance to make a BCS bowl appearance? It’s been a while, right?
The good news is that recruits are on board for Graham’s coaching style. According to Rivals, Graham has 19 recruits committed for the start of the 2013 season, including two four star linebackers. Three high school senior athletes have already signed their official letter of intent and there is time for the others to follow suit.
Not enough convincing that Graham deserves the MVP? How about the fact that he and Athletic Director Steve Patterson worked out the paperwork to renovate Sun Devil Stadium and give it a new look between the mountains? A great coach, happier fans, and future progressions in sight. To steal Graham’s words, "That’s the recipe for success."
Arizona State’s football program is gaining steam heading into the 2013 season and coach Graham is one of the people to thank. Hopefully next year we will all be jumping around like CTG in the video to celebrate his second successful season.