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ASU Football: 6 biggest surprises of the 2014 season

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What really caught our eye this past year?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Every season comes with certain unexpected outcomes. It's unrealistic to assume every team will remain the same for four months. Injuries take their toll, certain players come on strong while others don't rise to meet expectations. Here are just a few of the bigger surprises of the Sun Devils 2014 campaign (No particular order):

1. The Taylor Kelly injury and emergence of Mike Bercovici

Hardly anyone even saw him go into the locker room. He jogged off the field after the play was over and then suddenly, the television cameras cut to Taylor Kelly in a walking boot with crutches and a towel draped over his head. While one would have thought Kelly's season was over by his reaction on the sidelines in Colorado, he only ended up missing three games with a broken foot after having surgery.

After watching Kelly execute well most of the game and seem fine, it left many wide-eyed that he had such a grave injury on what looked like a very routine play. The future of the Sun Devils 2014 season was immediately and appropriately called into question with UCLA, USC and Stanford looming ahead. How would ASU survive?

The answer came in the form of Mike Bercovici, a charismatic junior signal caller who had patiently waited his turn for two years and change. He took advantage of his opportunity, passing for 1,243 yards and nine touchdowns in three starts, winning two games over Stanford and USC. His cannon for an arm helped preserve the Sun Devils season until Kelly was able to return. Bercovici again unexpectedly saw time at the end of the season in the Territorial Cup when the Sun Devils tried to mount a comeback. He completed 14 of 22 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns in that outing.

2. Demario Richard's abilities

Many expected Kalen Ballage to be the one to come on and be a difference maker this season, instead it was a four-star running back from Palmdale, California who had the biggest impact as a freshman. His 2014 campaign even earned him the nickname "Baby Beast Mode" by the end of the year.

Richard finished the season with over 50 all-purpose yards in six of the last seven games, managing over 100 against Utah and Notre Dame. He scored the touchdown against Notre Dame which put the game out of reach. His physicality helped tremendously against a large Washington front seven in Seattle and his best performance came in the bowl game where he finished with four total touchdowns, tying an ASU record for touchdowns in a bowl game that had stood for 40 years.

3. Beating Stanford and USC

Clearly the "Jael Mary" was the play that saved the Sun Devils season against the Trojans. Jaelen Strong tracked the ball beautifully behind what was horrendous Hail Mary defense by USC. After losing to UCLA previously, many didn't feel confident going into the Coliseum and rightfully so. ASU hadn't won there since 1999. Somehow, even after the announcers declared the game "iced," the Sun Devils pulled off the victory.

Stanford had ASU's number in 2013, embarrassing the Sun Devils twice, including once on their own turf at the Pac-12 Championship game. The Cardinal defense was ranked as one of the best in the country and full of upper classmen like A.J. Tarpley, Wayne Lyons and Jordan Richards. The Sun Devils proceeded to dominate Stanford, not letting up any points in the first half on their way to a 26-10 victory. A closer game was certainly expected and with Kelly expected back against Washington the next week, the ASU season seemed to be back on track.

4. The Sun Devils domination of Notre Dame

It was a roller coaster of a game. ASU had an incredible start and led 34-10 at halftime. The Fighting Irish came storming back to make it a three point game at 34-31 midway through the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils then finally engineered a second half drive to put the game out of reach and won 55-31. It wasn't supposed to come that easy for ASU. Everett Golson shouldn't have made so many mistakes, but the Sun Devils seemingly did almost everything right in the battle of No. 9 vs. No. 10 in the country at the time. The highlight reel was stacked with interception returns for touchdowns from Lloyd Carrington and Damarious Randall as well as other incredible turnovers made by Tashon Smallwood, Marcus Hardison and Kweishi Brown. The Fighting Irish were held to just 41 yards rushing and ASU won on the big stage in front of a national audience.

5. The loss to Oregon State

Seemingly the entire ASU fan base threw up the big red "trap game" flag about this game following the victory over Notre Dame, but that wouldn't stop the Beavers from upsetting the Sun Devils 35-27. ASU gave up 247 yards on the ground but were still up 10 at halftime. The Sun Devils only managed a field goal in the second half and a 35-yard interception return by Michael Doctor with under two minutes left sealed the win for Oregon State. The loss effectively killed the Sun Devils chances at the College Football Playoff and ruined nearly all the momentum ASU had after beating the Fighting Irish.

6. Jaelen Strong's catches

In the conversation of great pass catchers in football right now. Jaelen Strong has to be mentioned in the same sentence as Odell Beckham Jr. Strong continued his dominance in 2014, picking balls off the top of the heads of defensive backs and making his signature back shoulder catches. Add on a hail mary and impressive one handed grabs against Notre Dame and Arizona for touchdowns, Strong never ceased to amaze again in 2014. By the end of the year, fans mearly shrugged their shoulders at some of his incredible plays. He finished the season with 82 catches for 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns and should be a first round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft.