Another season is in the books for the Sun Devils. This time around, fans should rest a little easier in the offseason, as Arizona State picked up a 36-31 Sun Bowl victory over Duke on Saturday afternoon.
Here's what I took away from the final ASU football game of 2014.
1. The future is very bright: Demario Richard scored four times, Kweishi Brown sealed the game with an interception and forced a crucial fumble earlier and Tashon Smallwood and Kalen Ballage both contributed key plays. This freshman class was as good as any in the program's history in terms of first-year contributions.
A full year in the offseason workout programs and spring practice will only make the youngster better, and their is a healthy allotment of redshirted players waiting in the wings. Sure, losing Taylor Kelly, Jaelen Strong, Jamil Douglas and Damarious Randall won't be fun. But every program loses key seniors each year. The sign of a relevant team is how quickly replacements can be identified. The fact that you could likely name all four replacements is a great sign.
2. Strong, Douglas, Kelly and Randall represent one of the best senior classes in school history: And I'm not just speaking about on the field. While all four are among the best to ever suit up at their respective positions, and an argument can easily be made that Strong is the school's best receiver of all-time, the fact is these four men's contributions to Sun Devil football goes far beyond the gridiron.
It was apparent throughout the entire bowl game. Leadership, humility and class are the words you hear about these four. Three of them should be in the NFL next season. I'll be disappointed if Kelly, whose chances of a spot on an NFL practice squad went away with his injury problems this season, is not on the coaching staff as a graduate assistant next season.
If Todd Graham propels this program to the next level in 2015, he'll surely point back to this senior class and its contributions for guiding them in the right direction.
3. Duke was better than anyone thought: I knew the Blue Devils were a well-rounded team. Most people did. And everyone knows David Cutcliffe can coach. But team speed was a bit underrated coming into the Sun Bowl. Jamison Crowder in particular was mighty impressive. Better quarterback play from the Blue Devils and the scoreboard could have looked a lot different.
4. Two traditional problems reared there ugly heads: Granted, Duke is very good at both things, but the Sun Devils allowed far too many rushing yards on broken plays, and that punt return for a touchdown by Crowder in the second quarter was the difference in this game being a blowout and being a barn-burner. Again, Duke does both very well, so I didn't hit the panic button. But I placed my hand over it, where it will stay firmly planted until the Texas A&M game next September.
5. D.J. Foster needs to stay in school: And I believe the NFL Draft committee will tell him as much. Foster noted he would turn in his draft evaluation paperwork, and why wouldn't he? I would tell every draft eligible player on my team to do so, if that's really there dream. But Foster simply isn't an every down back in the NFL (who is these days?), and his route running remains a serious concern.
He's dynamic with the ball in his hands, and he's got solid hands for a running back, but his route's almost cost the Sun Devils the game. I still think he has room to add five more pounds without sacrificing his explosiveness, too, and I'd really like to see him returning punts and kicks next season, at least from a NFL future prospective. If Foster left school, he'd likely be picked in the fifth or sixth round, and that's not enough to jump to the NFL for.