One of the few bright spots for the Sun Devils during the 2011 season was the play of junior running back Cameron Marshall.
With Deantre Lewis' tragic offseason gunshot injury requiring a redshirt season, Marshall was the unquestioned workhorse for the ASU offense for the first time. In the Devils' pass-happy attack, he ran 230 times for 1,050 yards, the first time a Sun Devil had topped 1,000 yards since Ryan Torain in 2006. Marshall's 18 rushing touchdowns matched the school's single-season record and tied Oregon's LaMichael James for the conference lead. He also was a factor in the passing game, catching 24 passes for another 188 yards.
With the wide-open scheme of former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone now at UCLA, there are some questions of just what to expect from the Sun Devil offense in 2012.
New head coach Todd Graham is a defensive-minded coach who just happened to have overseen a number of potent offenses during his career. His likely offensive coordinator at ASU--Mike Norvell--has been with Graham for the past five seasons and last season was Pitt's co-offensive coordinator.
Despite that duo being at Pitt for just one season, what happened there provides a glimpse at what ASU fans may expect from the new regime, and if one trend holds, it bodes very well for a monster senior year for Marshall.
Norvell and Graham favor a spread attack that shares many similarities to ASU's offense under Mazzone, but it's one that is more reliant on the run. In 2011, Pitt had a 518-426 run-to-pass ratio, compared to ASU's 423-527.
At the forefront of many of those numbers for the Panthers was running back Ray Graham.
The junior entered the year as the featured back and hit the ground running. He ran 57 times over the first two games for 322 yards and six touchdowns and caught another seven passes for 36 yards. That kind of workload would become the standard, as Graham exceeded 21 carries in each of the next four games, including huge performances against South Florida (26 carries for 226) and Rutgers (24 for 159).
Not just a runner, Graham was also the team's leading receiver, as he hauled in 30 receptions in the first seven games.
Unfortunately, at 5-foot-9 and 195-pounds, Graham didn't have the build to withstand such a heavy workload. Just four plays into Pitt's eighth game against UConn, Graham suffered a season ending knee injury. At the time of the injury, Graham was second in the nation in rushing.
So what does that mean for Marshall next season? Potentially big things.
Marshall has quietly developed into one of the most dynamic all around running backs in the nation. He has game-breaking speed, as he has shown numerous times throughout his career. He also has the power to plow through opponents--just ask Oregon State or watch this run (start at the 2:55 mark).
In 2011, Marshall only topped 20 carries six times, a figure matched by Graham in half a season. If Marshall were to get that kind of workload, he very well could approach the 1,500-yard potential many believe he has.
One major advantage that Marshall has over Graham is the prototypical feature back size. Marshall is 5-foot-11 and a sturdy 215-pounds, and his frame should allow for some added bulk without sacrificing his home run speed.
Lewis will be coming back from his injury, Kyle Middlebrooks will look to bounce back from a disappointing season and top recruit D.J. Foster could also end of coming to ASU, but in 2012, there is no question as to the top dog in the Sun Devil backfield.
If recent history is any indication, that dog should have more than enough opportunities to bite opponents next fall.
Follow me on Twitter @BDenny29 for the latest news and analysis on ASU football