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ASU Football: Evaluating how 5 preseason storylines played out

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How much came true for the Sun Devils?

Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

The best predictions can be made out to look silly after the season is over. That's the beauty of a season, anything can happen and coaches as well as players have to adapt to different situations. Injuries take their toll and players can surprise by coming out of the woodwork to become an every Saturday player. All of these factors play into preseason storylines more often than not imploding. Let's take a look at the 2014 preseason storylines for ASU and what happened to them.

1. De'Marieya Nelson will be all over the field on offense, defense and special teams. He could be a huge x-factor for ASU.

This flat out didn't happen. Taylor Kelly rarely targeted his tight ends with passes and Nelson was utilized primarily in a blocking role. Todd Graham and staff more or less did away with the Devilbacker position in the middle of the season and Nelson didn't contribute much on the defensive side of the ball for the Sun Devils either. He finished tied for seventh on the team with 13 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. For as much hype and mystery surrounded his role in 2014, nothing really came of it.

2. Tashon Smallwood is the best freshman player the Sun Devils have according to Todd Graham, expect him to have an impact on the defensive line.

Smallwood started the first five games and struggled. He recorded just three tackles in those first five matchups and lost his starting spot. He started three other games sparingly and finished the season with 23 total tackles. His biggest play of the year came in the Notre Dame game when he had a strip sack and fumble recovery of Everett Golson. It wasn't the freshman year many expected him to have, but he should become more solid as he develops into a more complete player. After a disappointing 2013, Marcus Hardison came on strong in the second half of 2014 and improved in a big way. He might here his name called at the NFL Draft after finishing the season with 53 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, a fumble recovery and three forced fumbles.

3. Who is going to replace Robert Nelson at safety? It could be Jordan Simone or James Johnson.

This battle was unsettled coming out of preseason camp. Simone started against Weber State, Johnson then got the start against New Mexico. But Simone sealed the starting spot with his performance in the Colorado game when he had 13 tackles and an interception. He finished the year second on the team with 100 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack and two interceptions.

4. Kalen Ballage is only 18 and looks like a man-child. What kind of role will he play in 2014?

It was clear from the on set that the Sun Devils would need to use Ballage in 2014 because of his large frame, but with hindsight being 20/20, they probably could have afforded to use a redshirt on him. His biggest game came against Colorado when he had over 50 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns but he only had 69 yards the entire rest of the season. Demario Richard had the bigger impact of the two freshmen with 487 yards rushing and another 156 receiving with eight total touchdowns.

5. This team is replacing nine players on defense, consider 8-4 a solid rebuilding year and try not to lose momentum that Todd Graham has built in his first two seasons.

While expectations trended upward as the year went on, the Sun Devils overachieved what was expected in the preseason. ASU finished the year 10-3 with a bowl win and multiple freshmen, JUCO transfers and new starters such as Demario Richard, Kweishi Brown, DJ Calhoun, and Simone proved more than capable in their roles. A 10-3 season after an embarrassing week five loss to UCLA with victories over Stanford and USC on the road was more than most envisioned. Mike Bercovici showed in flashes that he can execute and carry the ASU offense without issue and the quarterback job is his to lose next season. As blurry as this season seemed at the outset, 2015 looks a lot clearer and certainly more exciting.