On Tuesday, we took a good look at the five biggest strengths for the Arizona State football team heading into the 2012 season. Now we take off the maroon-and-gold colored glasses and examine the most concerning weaknesses currently facing the team.
Based on the odds (ASU is 50/1 to win the Pac-12) and early point spreads, it is clear that the national view is one that expects the Sun Devils to struggle mightily in 2012. Based on all of the question marks surrounding this team, it's hard to disagree with the general sentiment (although we'll debate the degree).
So let's now take a look at the five areas of the team that appear now to be the greatest weaknesses. Before you label us defeatists, we should make the obvious note that many of them have the potential to develop over fall camp and into the season as team strengths. So there's that.
This one almost goes without saying.
One of the most repeated stats this offseason has been the fact that ASU will roll out a new starting quarterback for the fifth straight year. Yikes. This will also be ASU's third offensive coordinator in four years. More yikes.
We'll spare you the breakdown of the three-man battle (as there is plenty of that to come) between Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank and Taylor Kelly for the starting job. But regardless of who wins, he will be making his first career start come August 30th. No matter how talented any of them are, the phrase "first career start" never inspires confidence.
It goes without saying that in today's game, a quality quarterback is nearly essential to top-level success, and while each of the three young men have the capacity to develop into a good to even great player, the fact remains that each is a complete unknown under fire.
Whoever wins the job will have the benefit of a strong backfield to help ease the burden, but ultimately, this team will go as far as the man under center can take them.
2) The Kicking Game
On the surface, seeing a kicker's stat line reading 15 for 22 on field goal attempts during a season would seem to translate into "Pretty solid". But when you learn when the bulk of his misses occurred, it can find a route to "disastrous" quickly.
Such was the case last season for Alex Garoutte in his first year as the team's kicker.
The season started off promisingly enough with a two-for-two showing in the opener against UC Davis. But then he missed three of his next four, including his only attempt in a 17-14 loss to Illinois. A six-for-six streak restored confidence...briefly. An 0-for-3 showing during the costly loss at UCLA and a 21-yard shank the next week in the defeat to Washington State defined his season, overshadowing a solid finish to the year.
A large part of being a consistent kicker is confidence, and where Garoutte truly stands in that regard is unknown. He had his share of both successes and struggles during spring ball, and it will take a few clutch makes before Sun Devil fans can watch one of his kicks without their hands over their face. Garoutte is a talented kicker who can become one of the conference's best, but the proof will come this fall.
3) New Schemes
Clearly, this is a program in transition. From the coaching staff change, to the efforts to restore fan confidence, and the move to replace overall culture surrounding the team, in many ways this is far from the same program that existed seven months ago (Thank God).
But that change is not just limited to off-the-field matters. The Sun Devils will be installing, assimilating and attempting to perfect new offensive and defensive schemes.
On offense, the pass-heavy horizontal attack has been tossed aside for a run-heavy spread offense that will build much of it's passing game on strikes downfield. Defensively, the base 4-3 base will give way to a multi-set defense that places a significant premium on attacking the offense.
Both of these new schemes definitely favor the "high-octane" approach Todd Graham takes to...well, everything. Thankfully, the players on both sides seem excited to utlize them. But as with any shift of this nature, there will be struggles in execution. During the spring, progress was made, as were plenty of mistakes.
There will be exciting moments throughout the year, but it will be some time before the right players for the system are in place and that they are comfortable in those schemes.
4) Wide Receiver
Along with the "fifth starter in five years" stat, another figure heavily bandied about (we're guilty) is that ASU lost over two-thirds of it's receiving yards from a year ago. With such personnel losses, the position has gone from a strength to a major concern.
For every strength of the group, there is a corresponding concern. Jamal Miles has the explosive playmaking ability, but he doesn't fit the mold as a true wide receiver. Rashad Ross has elite speed, but is unrefined. Kevin Ozier has the makings of a solid possession receiver, but just 11 career catches. Gary Chambers and J.J. Holliday each have very intriguing talent, but no meaningful snaps on offense. Alonzo Aguwenu is coming in after a sensational junior college career, but can that production translate into the Pac-12? And so it goes.
It's almost fitting that with so doubt at quarterback, there is just as much with the people who will catch their passes.
5) Interior Offensive Line
As if the offense didn't have enough to worry about...
The foundation of any successful offense is built up front along the line, and how well the quarterbacks and the wide receivers will do will be dependent upon the job of that group. While the team shows promise at the tackle spots with Evan Finkenberg and Brice Schwab, the interior three spots are a different matter.
At center, Kody Koebensky is taking over at center for second-team All-Pac-12er Garth Gerhart, and Jamil Douglas is inheriting the left guard spot. Andrew Sampson is the interior's only experienced player, having 22 starts on his resume, but has yet to reach his full potential.
This will not be a fact lost on opposing defenses, who will attack the Sun Devil offense up the middle. If they can hold fast, gel together and develop into a strength, ASU just may exceed expectations. If not, a lot of three-and-outs may be in the future.
Previous season preview entries in our 5-Pack series are here