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ASU Football: Local media preseason roundtable

Find out how the local media sees the season going for ASU.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Our Panel:

Ryan Bafaloukos - House of Sparky Co-Managing Editor (@RyanBafo)
Josh Nacion- House of Sparky Co-Managing Editor (@Josh_Nacion)
Brad Denny - Former House of Sparky Managing Editor, 3 TV Sportswriter (@BDenny29)
Nick Krueger - Former House of Sparky Managing Editor, Devils Digest reporter (@NickPKrueger)
Connor Pelton - House of Sparky writer (@ConnorPelton28)
Shane Theodore - House of Sparky writer (@shane_writes)
Kristina Vicario - House of Sparky writer (@KristinaV_18)
Chris Schubert - House of Sparky writer (@ChrisRSchubert)
Stefan Modrich - State Press Sports Editor (@StefanJModrich
Fabian Ardaya - State Press football writer/Rivals contributor (@fardaya15)
Jacob Garica - SunDevilSource video reporter (@Jake_M_Garcia)
Zac Pacleb - Cronkite Sports Football writer (@ZacPacleb)

Over/Under Mike Bercovici: 3,000 passing yards
Over: Denny, Ardaya, Nacion, Theodore, Modrich, Krueger, Pacleb, Pelton, Schubert, Garcia, Vicario, Bafaloukos

Under: None

Over/Under Running backs: 800 rushing yards for an individual back
Over: Ardaya, Denny, Theodore, Modrich, Pelton, Schubert, Vicario

Under: Nacion, Krueger, Pacleb, Garcia, Bafaloukos

Over/Under Receivers: 800 receiving yards for an individual receiver
Over: Denny, Theodore,  Pelton, Garcia, Vicario, Bafaloukos

Under: Ardaya, Nacion, Modrich, Krueger, Pacleb, Schubert

Over/Under D.J. Foster: 12 total touchdowns for Foster

Over: Denny, Nacion, Pacleb, Pelton, Schubert, Vicario, Bafaloukos
Under: Ardaya, Theodore, Modrich, Krueger, Garcia

Over/Under: 4 games decided by one possession (8 points or less)
Over: Denny, Theodore, Modrich, Pelton, Vicario, Bafaloukos

Even: Ardaya, Nacion,

Under: Krueger, Pacleb, Schubert, Garcia

Team Leader in Sacks:
Ardaya: Longino
Denny: Longino
Bafaloukos: Cherry
Nacion: Moeakiola
Theodore: Moeakiola
Modrich: Moeakiola
Krueger: Wicker
Pacleb: Longino
Pelton: Moeakiola
Schubert: Fiso
Garcia: Cherry
Vicario: Moeakiola

Team Leader in Total Tackles:
Ardaya: Simone
Denny: Sam
Bafaloukos: Fiso
Nacion: Fiso
Theodore: Simone
Modrich: Simone
Krueger: Simone
Pacleb: Simone
Pelton: Simone
Schubert: Simone
Garcia: Simone
Vicario: Simone

Team Leader in Interceptions:
Ardaya: Brown
Denny: Brown
Bafaloukos: Brown
Nacion: Simone
Theodore: Brown
Modrich: Carrington
Krueger: Carrington
Pacleb: Perry
Pelton: Brown
Schubert: Brown
Garcia: Brown
Vicario: Brown

Team Leader in Total Touchdown (Not Bercovici):
Ardaya: Richard
Denny: Richard
Bafaloukos: Foster
Nacion: Foster
Theodore: Richard
Modrich: Richard
Krueger: Richard
Pacleb: Foster
Pelton: Foster
Schubert: Richard
Garcia: Ballage
Vicario: Foster

Offensive MVP:

Ardaya: Foster
Denny: Bercovici
Bafaloukos: Bercovici
Nacion: Bercovici
Theodore: Richard
Modrich: Ballage
Krueger: Bercovici
Pacleb: Bercovici
Pelton: Foster
Schubert: Bercovici
Garcia: Bercovici
Vicario: Foster

Defensive MVP:

Ardaya: Moeakiola
Denny: Cherry
Bafaloukos: Moeakiola
Nacion: Fiso
Theodore: Brown
Modrich: Simone
Krueger: Simone
Pacleb: Carrington
Pelton: Simone
Schubert: Simone
Garcia: Moeakiola
Vicario: Simone

Who is your breakout player in 2015?

Vicario: Demario Richard. The running back is only 18 years old, a true sophomore and now needs to shoulder the load in the Sun Devil's running game with D.J. Foster now at wide receiver and Kalen Ballage playing on both sides of the ball. Richard could potentially have a huge year after a season where he ran for 478 yards and scored eight touchdowns on just 84 carries. Now out from behind Foster, Richard could have the chance to double that total this season.

Garcia: Devin Lucien. For a variety of reasons, Lucien’s numbers in his three previous years at UCLA were suppressed. But now paired with D.J. Foster as the focal points of an offense that will air the ball out out a ton, he’s in a prime environment to succeed. Add in that he already had a fantastic relationship with Mike Bercovici and Mike Norvell before becoming a Sun Devil, and he’s frequently among the last to leave practice each day, it’s clear he’s trending upwards.

Schubert: Demario Richard is going to step up as the premiere back in the ASU offense, allowing the Sun Devils to use D.J. Foster in more Percy Harvin type role by moving him around the field.

Pelton: Kalen Ballage. The sophomore running back has had a solid fall camp after shining in the spring. He had three touchdowns in 2014 playing behind D.J. Foster and Demario Richard, and his work load should increase this season with Foster's move to receiver.

Pacleb: Kalen Ballage. He got off to an up-and-down start after missing fall camp last season, but he and Demario Richard emerged as the season progressed. Ballage was much better running north-south in the spring, and with Foster and "Gump" Hayes seeing more time out wide, that frees up Ballage to go to work. I’m not sure how much he’ll be mixed in at Devilbacker on passing downs, but he’s enough of an athlete to possibly cause havoc from that position as well. He’ll be all over the field.

Krueger: I think Devin Lucien gets called on a lot this season. He obviously has the relationship with Bercovici and his attitude so far has been top notch. I think he can be the Sun Devils go-to possession receiver, a spot ASU hasn't easily filled in awhile.

Modrich: De’Chavon "Gump" Hayes. In addition to boasting two power backs in Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard, ASU is loaded at receiver even with Jaelen Strong gone to the draft and Cameron Smith sidelined for the season due to a injury. Hayes is a hybrid back and wideout (the type of player offensive coordinator Mike Norvell loves) who will play much in the same way D.J. Foster likely will. The Sun Devils have such a deep collection of well-rounded skill players, but Hayes has the speed to be a quality Pac-12 running back and in time will a solid receiver who is a threat from wherever he lines up.

Theodore: D.J. Calhoun. I haven’t seen any ASU linebacker fly to the ball quite like Calhoun. He showed why his successful recruitment away from USC was met with so much hype. His true freshman season was full of glimpses of greatness. Calhoun gained 30 pounds from his freshman year and now looks to cement himself in the linebacking corps. With his instinctual playing-style, a stronger Calhoun refined by a year of being in the program has an opportunity to explode onto the national scene.

Nacion: I see several players having a breakout year for ASU in different ways, but I'll go with De'Chavon Hayes just because no one outside the media has really seen him play yet. He'll prove he's going to be the one who replaces Foster next year as the every-down running back/slot receiver hybrid. He'll excite so many fans with his speed and on special teams, and I'd actually be surprised if he finishes the season without a touchdown return.

Bafaloukos: My candidate is De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes. I see him being used in the same mold that Foster will be used. He will get carries in the backfield as well as receptions as a slot receiver. He will also return punts and kicks so he will have the ball in his hand a lot.

Denny: Ellis Jefferson. He's flashed his potential for a while, but this is the year Jefferson finally breaks out. His rapport with Bercovici is excellent, and I think he emerges as the team's No. 2 wide receiver and tops 50 catches on the season.

Ardaya: This is more from a national sense than local, but Demario Richard is going to put himself into some national conversations this season. He's the top dog of a very deep running backs group, and looks bigger and faster than he did as a true freshman (when he scored four touchdowns in one game against Duke in the Sun Bowl).

Bold prediction for 2015?

Vicario: A twofer: The Sun Devils ride into the Oregon game with momentum from a road win in Utah and take advantage of home turf to defeat the Ducks by a touchdown.

Garcia: ASU will start the season 4-0. All signs point to this group being as poised and ready as ever for the start of the year. Senior leadership at key positions and younger players with a boatload of experience tend to validate that sort of claim. The schedule to begin, granted, is a bit of a rollercoaster, with cupcake games against Cal Poly and New Mexico sandwiched between challenging ones against Texas A&M and USC. ASU will take care of business against Cal Poly and New Mexico, and then, thanks to matching up well against Texas A&M and USC, will win both of those games as well.

Schubert: Mike Bercovici finds himself in the conversation for the Heisman by the season’s end.

Pelton: Arizona State loses at California.

Pacleb: Mo Latu will take an interception to the house.

Krueger: ASU is ranked in the top 5 with a win over USC on Sept. 26.

Modrich: Armand Perry will be named first-team All Pac-12.

Theodore: ASU has more trouble dealing with Washington true freshman quarterback Jake Browning than they do UCLA true freshman Josh Rosen. I watched Browning destroy my alma mater for three straight seasons when he was winning state championships at Folsom High School, setting national records while playing for a public school in the CIF Open division that pitted them against private schools who can recruit players. Rosen’s got the hype, but Browning’s been playing against D1 competition since 2012 and gets my vote as the breakout freshman in the conference.

Nacion: Arizona State will make the College Football Playoff. The Sun Devils have gotten better and made significant strides in each of Todd Graham's first three years, and other than the schedule, Graham has given me no reason to believe the team will be worse this season.

Bafaloukos: The winner of the Territorial Cup will represent the South in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Denny: Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage combine for 2,000 yards rushing and 20 total touchdowns.

Ardaya: The Kalen Ballage experiment in playing him at running back, linebacker and special teams will fail. His body will hold up better than De'Marieya Nelson last season, but his impact on the defense will be minor at best.

What is the most important game of the season and why?

Vicario: USC. The Sun Devils open up conference play at home against the Trojans who are national title contenders this year and will be looking to avenge last season’s "Jael-Mary" loss that stunned everyone in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. ASU needs to start off with a win against one of the toughest teams in the South.

Garcia: USC. A matchup between two top-25 teams that could easily turn into a matchup of two top ten teams between now and then, this is really an easy pick. The importance for ASU to position itself at the forefront of the Pac-12 South race early on in the season cannot be hammered home enough. We’ll likely hear Todd Graham call five different games this year "The most important of the season," but this is really the most important game of the season.

Schubert: It may seem like an obvious pick, but the game against Texas A&M. This is a huge season for ASU Football and it needs to get off to a good start. It doesn’t matter how they win the game, but ASU needs to leave Houston 1-0 on the season. That will set the tone for what ASU is going to accomplish this season.

Pelton: The Pac-12 opener against USC seems pretty important. I hesitate to place so much significance on a game in September, but a victory over the Trojans would not only put the Sun Devils in the south division driver's seat, but also give them a big tiebreaker that could come into play when deciding who goes to the conference championship game. With last year's ending still fresh in everyone's minds, this should be one of the best games of the year.

Pacleb: USC, unquestionably. That game sets the tone in the south for the rest of the season. Plenty of people are picking ASU to take the division, but if they can’t get past the favorites, that sets back their plans dramatically.

Krueger: I think without a doubt USC, and it will be magnified even more if ASU beats Texas A&M. Both teams likely face off undefeated and there is a chance Gameday shows up. It also has huge Pac-12 South implications. The team that comes away with a win will really start hearing their name in more national conversations.

Modrich: Oregon. If ASU can make it through the gauntlet of Texas A&M, the Los Angeles schools and Utah unscathed with just one of those matchups at home, they’ll be relieved to face the Ducks on what will likely be a relatively cool Tempe night in late October. The Sun Devils will return to the comforts of Sun Devil Stadium and a reinvigorated student section that will have begun settling Camp Fargo the second the clock runs out in Salt Lake City. It’s a matchup that doesn’t belong on a Thursday night and deserves all the pageantry of last season’s battle with Notre Dame. But the significance of a chance to topple the post-Mariota Ducks in front of a national audience on ESPN would trump the thrilling victory over the Irish last season and convince the College Football Playoff Committee that ASU is serious about playing its final game of the year in Glendale.

Theodore: Last year I said it was the home tilt against UCLA, this year I’m not making the mistake of ignoring the Territorial Cup. I attended my first Territorial Cup last year and besides the outcome, it was the most thrilling event I’ve attended in person. ASU won 10 games last year and that loss in Tucson is still gut-wrenching to think about. Every other game is important, but none is more crucial to Tempe’s mental stability than the Territorial Cup.

Nacion: Nov. 20 vs. Arizona. Never mind the Territorial Cup rivalry and all — the winner will more than likely go on to win the Pac-12 South and play in the conference championship for the second year in a row.

Bafaloukos: I said above I think the winner of the Territorial Cup wins the Pac-12 South so I think it is the matchup at home against Arizona. Even if the game is not for any postseason implications, losing two straight to Arizona would hurt. I think with all the off-field drama at USC and with UCLA breaking in a true freshman quarterback, the south is ripe for the taking for one of the Arizona schools.

Denny: USC. This battle between Top 10 teams should also go a long way in determining the Pac-12 South. The national media is all over the Trojans. Toppling them on national TV with get the Sun Devils in the spotlight.

Ardaya: The Territorial Cup. It decided the Pac-12 South last season, and could very well be the case again this year. ASU plays its toughest games (USC, Oregon and Arizona) at home this season, and will look to not fall into the same trap as the end of last season (losses to Arizona, Oregon State)

What is the game that fans may be overlooking but ASU may struggle?

Vicario: Utah. The Utes gave the Sun Devils a hard time last season, forcing an overtime at home where ASU just slid by in the end with a field goal. The Utes have another tough roster this year and ASU will be coming off USC, UCLA and Colorado, and face the Utes on the road.

Garcia: November 7, @WAZZU. It’s really a toss-up between this game and the one on November 28 at Berkeley. Cal has the better quarterback; Washington State has the tougher environment; and both teams in recent history have tended to give ASU a bit of a headache. Still, Washington State was picked to finish below Cal, which makes it slightly more of a trap game.

Pelton: California. This is just a classic trap game. The maroon and gold could very well overlook Sonny Dykes' team after the Territorial Cup, and that is not a good recipe for success on the road against the most experienced team in the Pac-12.

Pacleb: Utah. The Utes are anything but spectacular, but they rely on strong defense, and following UCLA and Colorado, the hangover-effect from those games could be relevant. The away game is also a week before Oregon comes to Tempe, so there’s always a chance that players could overlook a team that isn’t perceived to do well this season in the conference.

Krueger: Going to Salt Lake City to play Utah. ASU has beaten Utah with incredible endings the past two years and Rice Eccles is sneakily one of the toughest places to play in the Pac-12. The Utes will definitely want to avenge their losses and have a huge chip on their shoulder. I'll throw Cal in their as well just because it's after the Territorial Cup, which traditionally ends the season. It might be tough to not be emotionally drained regardless of the Territorial Cup outcome.

Modrich: You’d be hard-pressed to find fans of any Pac-12 program who really have the luxury of overlooking someone this season, but Washington State (which gave ASU a very real scare following the crushing upset loss to Oregon State) is so opportunistically placed on ASU’s schedule the week after the Oregon game that it could very well allow for the Sun Devils to let their guard down – and not because Pullman is a particularly difficult place to win. Against a team like California, Colorado, or even Washington, #Pac12AfterDark mojo could swing back and forth and make things more interesting. The highs of a college football season (USC) and lows (OSU) tend to balance out over the course of the year.

Theodore: Ahh, the Oregon State question. The Beavers were much less talented than ASU but the presence of Sean Mannion was instrumental in their late-season win over the Sun Devils. This year the Cal Bears are my team to watch out for, as ASU plays them right after the Territorial Cup, in Berkeley. Cal isn’t going to compete for a Pac-12 Championship but Jared Goff is a top NFL prospect and can sling the ball. ASU could easily find itself with a letdown game against Goff and the Bears if they don’t enter it with the right mindset.

Nacion: Oct. 16 at Utah. No one (except this roundtable) is talking about that game, but it could very well be the Sun Devils' toughest matchup of the season. It should be ASU's toughest Rice-Eccles Stadium is certainly a more hostile environment than Rose Bowl Stadium, especially now that the Utes are good enough to contend for the conference championship. Being a midseason game and with ASU having already faced USC, Oregon and UCLA, it should change the course of the season for better or worse.

Bafaloukos: I was torn between Utah and Cal but I think it has to be the Nov. 28 matchup with the Golden Bears. ASU will either be coming off a high of beating Arizona and potentially looking ahead to the Pac-12 Title Game ore the low of losing to Arizona and this game means nothing two days after Thanksgiving. Cal returns a lot, including maybe the league's best quarterback.

Denny: Cal. Coming after the Arizona game, this has trap game written all over it. If things go according to plan, ASU will be looking at a game with possible South division/playoff implications. Facing one of the nation's elite passing attacks on the road, it could be a long day for the Sun Devils if their pass rush is not ready.

Ardaya: Utah. The Utes were tough to overlook last season and are even considered a "cupcake" to some teams this season, but they're legit. They are undecided at the quarterback position, but they're loaded all around and playing in Salt Lake City will be a tough place to get a victory. Honorable mention: @ Washington State.

(Finally) What will be the team's final record be and where do they finish in the Pac-12 South?

Vicario: 10-2 regular season, First in the South. I see ASU losing to UCLA on the road but still beating them out for the Pac-12 South and defeating Oregon in an extremely tight Pac-12 Championship game.

Garcia: 9-3, first in Pac-12 South, lose Pac-12 Title game, left out of College Football Playoff. I know, nine wins may seem disappointing considering I tabbed ASU as winning its first four games. But, conservative end-of-season record predictions tend to be closer to correct more often than not, and the main takeaway should be that it will still be enough to win the Pac-12 South. For clarity’s sake, I have them losing to UCLA, Oregon and then tripping up against either Washington State or Cal. Any semblance of a confident prediction after that is really meaningless, so I won’t pretend like I have the answers by explaining further.

Schubert: The team will finish 10-2 (with losses to UCLA and Oregon), which means that they will need two Pac-12 losses from UCLA to make it to the Pac-12 Championship Game. With this year’s college football landscape, two losses may be too many for ASU to make the College Football Playoff, but anything is possible.

Pelton: 8-4, third in Pac-12 South. This is a solid football team, but matching last year's double digit win total seems to be a bit of a stretch. That team benefited from a +14 turnover margin, and with the losses of Taylor Kelly, Damarious Randall, and Marcus Hardison, that number won't be nearly as high this season. I think the Sun Devils get by Texas A&M and Oregon but the schedule is just filled with land mines everywhere. They could play very good football against USC, UCLA, Utah, and California and still come out with losses in each of those. That's tough to swallow, but that is life in the Pac-12 for you.

Pacleb: 11-1, first in the Pac-12 South. In their second shot against Oregon (their one projected loss in my mind), they lose but still make a big-time bowl game.

Krueger: I see this season one of two ways. Either the team climbs over the 10-win hump or crashes and burns. I just don't see a scenario with the latter so I have them winning the south and playing Oregon in the Pac-12 title game but losing. In which case I think their record is still good enough and they find themselves as an at-large bid to the Fiesta Bowl.

Modrich: 11-1, First in Pac-12 South. Winning the Pac-12 South alone would be intriguing enough to bring up in conversation in playoff committee meetings, but it won’t guarantee the Sun Devils a spot in the final four. For obvious reasons, USC and Oregon are probably the best candidates to prevent ASU from securing as spot in the Pac-12 Championship game, and if ASU loses, it will be to either the Ducks or Trojans. If ASU does win the South, they should go on to win the conference rather easily and could even jump as high as the No. 2 or 3 seed in the playoff.

Theodore: I’m looking at this team and I want to believe, I really do. But when evaluating the schedule and the rest of the Pac-12 South, it’s just not realistic to……ah who am I kidding, this is the year! ASU loses to USC at home, wins every other game and makes the Pac-12 Championship after the Trojans end up with a pair of conference losses. The Sun Devils face off against Stanford in the Pac-12 title game after missing them in the regular season, and avenge the 2013 Pac-12 title loss with a dominant performance that launches them into the College Football Playoff.

Nacion: I see ASU having a 10-2 regular season record and going on to beat Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. ASU will only get a No. 4 seed in the Playoff and will likely lose to Ohio State.

Bafaloukos: I see ASU finishing the regular season 10-2, with losses to Texas A&M and Oregon. With wins ove USC, Arizona and UCLA, the Sun Devils make the Pac-12 Championship Game and lose to Oregon for the second time. However, a nice consolation prize is the Rose Bowl, which is not affiliated with the CFP this year and will look for a Pac-12 team.

Denny: 10-2 - South Champions. Heading into fall camp, I had concerns about the defense and thought this was an eight-win team. A few weeks later, they are answered enough that I think ASU will retake the South crown after a 10-win regular season, blemished only by losses to UCLA and Oregon. I think ASU will meet the Ducks again in December, but sadly, will fall a bit short.

Ardaya: This changes almost every day to me, but I see ASU going 10-2 during the regular season and eventually winning the Pac-12. They'll be in the conversation for the College Football Playoff, but fall just short.