ASU Football Weekly Roundtable
Question: Who is ASU's midseason MVP and what player needs to be the second half MVP for the Sun Devils to win the Pac-12 South?
Nick Krueger: My midseason MVP has to be Jaelen Strong. He has not only lived up to the hype but has arguably surpassed it. Whenever Taylor Kelly needs a first down or a big play, he can count on a back shoulder bullet to Strong to get him what he needs. He has five straight games of more than 100 yards receiving totaling 678 yards and 42 receptions. He had arguably his best game of the year against the toughest opponent in Stanford with 12 catches for 168 yards. Strong's stats would be even more impressive if it weren't for all the pass interference calls he's drawn because defensive backs just can't handle his size and strength
The second half MVP for the Devils to win the South has to be...wait, can I pick the entire defense? No? Ok fine, I'll go with Will Sutton. He's already having a fine campaign with 18 tackles and a sack but completely underwhelmed expectations in the first half of the season. The run defense has to improve, it just has to, and it starts up front in the middle with the biggest man and that's Sutton. Bishop Sankey and Ka'Deem Carey are still coming to Tempe and their performance will play a key role in whether or not the Sun Devils will win those two games down the stretch. For as lovable of a guy as Will Sutton tends to be, he needs a better second half or the Sun Devils are probably headed for mediocrity once again.
Ryan Bafaloukos: I actually think Taylor Kelly is the midseason MVP of the season. Through all the inconsistencies of the Arizona State running game and wide receivers, the constant has been Kelly. The junior has had to make plays with both his legs and his arm this year. He has had to carry the offense while the running game attempts to get on track. Part of the reason Jaelen Strong has had such an impact this season is because of Kelly's improved accuracy and leadership. Kelly is on pace for about 4,000 passing yards and over 30 touchdowns this season.
I think for the remainder of the season, the MVP has to be Carl Bradford. The Arizona State pass rush needs to improve. Sean Mannion, Brett Hundley, Connor Halliday are all very good Pac-12 quarterbacks and the pass rush needs to pressure the quarterback more than they are right now. Last season Bradford had 11.5 sacks and he has had a slow first half of the season.
Ben Haber: Through the midway point of the ASU season, Marion Grice gets my nod for MVP. Grice doesn't have the necessary yards to put him in the Heisman trophy conversation, yet his 15 total touchdowns are the most in college football. Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong direct the offense into the red zone, but all their hard work would be irrelevant without Grice. The former junior college running back has skyrocketed up the NFL draft boards. Some experts rank him as the second best running back for the 2014 class, while the median sits around fourth. The offensive line hasn't provided many holes because of the quality defensive lines they've faced. Despite that, Grice still accumulated 4.4 yards per carry, which is very respectable. Mike Norvell and the offense averages an astounding 44.2 points per game, and Grice deserves the majority of the credit.
For the remainder of the 2013 campaign, the offensive line needs to be their MVP. Regardless of the talent Kelly, Strong and Grice possess, they are insignificant if the blocking doesn't become more consistent. The right side of the offensive line, featuring Tyler Sulka and Vi Teolfio are gifted, but mental mistakes due to inexperience have flawed them. Now with six games under their belt, the experience excuse goes out the door. The defense isn't creating as many turnovers, therefore the offense needs to do even more. None of the Sun Devil's aspirations will be met unless the blocking up front goes from average to great.
Mauricio Casillas: I would have to agree with Nick in this case -- it has to be Jaelen Strong. Strong has emerged as one of the top receivers in the Pac-12, and has been instrumental in helping Taylor Kelly succeed. He is a legitimate top receiver that requires a double team, and that opens up the offense. The back-shoulder throw cannot be defended, and it has gotten the Sun Devils out of a lot of jams this season.
For the remainder of the season, Marion Grice needs to be the team's MVP. Yes, he leads the nation with 15 touchdowns. However, he hasn't had a single game with over 100 rushing yards. If Grice can get the running game going early in the games, it will help the offense fire on all cylinders. I'm not saying that Grice has under performed by any means, all I'm saying is that if he's able to get consistent yardage on runs, there is no way that this offense can be stopped.
Kerry Crowley: I'm going to split my first half MVP award between superstar newcomer Jaelen Strong and quarterback Taylor Kelly. Aside from Oregon State's Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks, there is no better quarterback-wide receiver combo in the Pac-12 right now and the chemistry they've developed in just a few months together is remarkable. Kelly's streak of five consecutive 300-yard games came to an end against Colorado, but that was simply because Arizona State was so far ahead that the coaching staff couldn't justify trotting out Kelly any longer. Even in his limited time on the field, Strong continued his streak of five straight 100-yard outings against the Buffaloes and his progress continues to amaze everyone who catches the slightest glimpse of his play.
In the second half of the season, the production from Kelly and Strong won't be enough to carry this team to a Pac-12 South title. I believe the second half MVP has to be the Sun Devils' nose tackle. Whether Todd Graham reinserts Jaxon Hood into the starting lineup or Davon Coleman keeps the job, the nose tackle has to be the Sun Devils' most efficient defensive player. A solid nose tackle will do wonders for the run defense and can free up Will Sutton and Carl Bradford in the pass rush. If offenses have to account for a feisty nose instead of constantly double-teaming Sutton and sliding protection toward Bradford, the Sun Devils' defense will reach the next level. The potential is there, now it's time for Arizona State to realize it.