The Arizona State Sun Devils finished their 2016 season with a disappointing 5-7 record. Their year included a hot start before a bevy of injuries and a lack of answers resulted in a six-game losing streak, the longest of the Todd Graham era.
Now, in the immediate aftermath of the campaign, uncertainty looms.
Sure, there’s some bright spots—both Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage are expected back, and N’Keal Harry is on his way to being arguably the best receiver to wear a Sun Devil uniform, and the Devilbacker question appears to be solved with the emergence of Koron Crump. Regardless, there’s an overwhelming amount of questions that will have to be addressed during the offseason and beyond.
Below, some of our staff takes a hand at answering a slew of questions regarding ASU’s 2016 season and what they expect from the program in the future.
Kaelen Jones: Co-Managing Editor (@kaelenjones)
Connor Pelton: Co-Managing Editor (@ConnorPelton28)
Zac Pacleb: Football Writer/Multimedia Reporter (@ZacPacleb)
Shane Theodore: Staff Writer (@shane_writes)
Josiah Destin: Staff Writer (@jdestinsports)
Max Madden: Staff Writer (@max_madden)
1. Did the outcome of ASU's season surprise you? Why or why not?
Destin: No. They were predicted to finish low. In one article, I read they were supposed to go 3-9 and lose to Texas Tech. Around 6-6 or 5-7 seemed right to me in the beginning of the year.
Jones: No bowl game and a six-game losing streak did. Vegas is never wrong though, so it’s not too surprising.
Madden: The Devils really never had a quarterback, competent offensive scheme or anything resembling a secondary. While the 5-7 record wasn't extremely surprising, ASU's inability to keep some conference games close certainly was.
Pacleb: Not really. It was supposed to be a down year, and that’s exactly what it was.
Pelton: A little bit. I figured this team would take advantage of their soft schedule early on and win its first four games before picking up two to three more victories somewhere along the way in the final two months of the year. But, the defense went to Hell, the injuries mounted up, and they finished 5-7. If you had told me they finish with five wins back in August, I wouldn't have been all that surprised.
Theodore: 5-7 didn't surprise me. Going 5-1 and then losing six straight to end the year did. Also, it's still astounding to me that the defense was as consistently-terrible as it was. It was almost impressive how bad they were on the side of the ball that their coach made his name in. Still surprised we haven't seen any official staff changes yet.
2. How did ASU’s 5-1 start alter your view of the team, if at all?
Destin: It completely changed the way I viewed this team. I thought Wilkins and his in-game theatrics were some of the most exciting and unstoppable in the country, but then he got hurt and not only defenses figure him out, but the Sun Devils played better teams.
Jones: It did, admittedly. ASU did what it had to do—win the first four, split L.A. schools—so I assumed two or three more wins was feasible, if not likely.
Madden: ASU really stumbled to that record, and never looked convincing in those first six games. The way it lost to USC validated all of my fears for this team.
Pelton: Like I said in the first answer, those first four wins didn't really surprise me. But when they pulled out that gutty victory against UCLA, I thought that they might just have a chance to be a contender in the Pac-12 South. That prediction ended up being, um, very wrong.
Theodore: I didn't think it was sustainable enough to make a serious run at a conference title but damn, the offense looked unstoppable and I was pretty close to being the last person to jump on the Manny is the Answer bandwagon. I'm glad I didn't.
3. What disappointed you the most?
Destin: The secondary. I know Arizona State runs a high-blitzing defense, but Graham's pass-defense still ranked 128th (last) in the nation, which is unacceptable.
Jones: The defense. It was abysmal in just about every phase. That and the fact Tim White didn’t appear 100 percent throughout most of the year, and the passing attack suffered.
Madden: Kaelen's going to hate this, but Chip Lindsey never established a solid attack on offense. He looked so good in the first few games but relied on skill players way too often and couldn't adapt his schemes to the different quarterbacks he had to use. The secondary was also obviously really (historically) bad, but with all the turnover and lack of personnel you couldn't expect much better than last year.
Pacleb: Tackling issues.
Pelton: The current six-game losing streak.
Theodore: I'm a recruiting/draft nut, and as enthralling as it was too see N'Keal Harry make his mark as a true freshman, there were other youngsters from recent Graham recruiting classes that warranted game opportunities. Too many recruits that have come in with notoriety and high expectation have vanished into thin air. Watching a losing team isn't fun, but watching a losing team that isn't trying new things - and new players - isn't worth the watch.
4. What impressed you the most?
Destin: Sixty-eight points against Texas Tech. I thought ASU would struggle offensively, which they did in the long run, but 68 points against any power-five conference opponent should make Sun Devil fans feel good.
Jones: 1.) N’Keal Harry, 2.) Koron Crump, 3.) Zane Gonzalez
Madden: N'Keal Harry transitioned from high school to the college game without missing a beat. So often you'll see true freshmen struggle to work their way into productivity or even the depth chart, but at times Harry was playing better than any receiver in the Pac-12. I'm going to enjoy him while I can.
Pacleb: N’Keal freaking Harry.
Pelton: Zane Gonzalez's ability to be automatic night in and night out.
Theodore: Manny somehow managed to make it through an entire season without getting embarrassed trying to hurdle someone. Also, Zane. That's it. Everything else sucked.
5. Which storyline intrigues you the most entering the offseason?
Destin: Who will be the quarterback? Eight different Sun Devils passed the ball this season, it should be interesting to see who starts next season.
Jones: Of course, quarterbacks. Also: Who starts in the secondary opposite Orr?
Madden: The Sun Devils have to figure out a quarterback situation. Manny was given all the opportunity in the world to lock the position up for the next couple years but definitely didn't. We should expect the same four-way battle we saw last year, and hopefully for ASU they come up with a better answer this time.
Pacleb: Quarterbacks, again.
Pelton: Todd Graham, baby. Coaching controversies are always intriguing, and I think a conversation needs to be had if he doesn't take Arizona State back to a bowl in 2017.
Theodore: Will Graham take accountability and make some serious staff changes or will we enter 2017 with the same bunch that led ASU into this slog? It seems clear that Graham isn't going to get canned and change for the sake of change isn't healthy, but when you're changing away from the country's worst passing defense and a rushing defense that allowed 500+ rushing yards to Arizona there has to be some heads that roll. I'm curious if Graham has the stones to drop the guillotine.
6. Assuming Todd Graham returns, what does he need to fix/improve in order to last beyond 2017?
Destin: The run-game was atrocious. ASU ran for 714 more yards in 2015-2016 and were bowl eligible. If the team can't establish a run game next season, it'll be tough for ASU to go bowling.
Jones: Defense (mostly the secondary) and offensive line.
Madden: Todd has a huge list of things to work on if he wants Ray Anderson to give him another chance in 2018. The offense, secondary, quarterback, winning on the road, recruiting, not getting embarrassed against Arizona...
Pacleb: If anyone says anything other than defense, they didn’t watch this season.
Pelton: The blown coverages and tackling issues need to be a focal point throughout the offseason.
Theodore: Develop a pocket-passing quarterback for the first time in his tenure here,, and field a defense worth calling itself a defense.
7. The season just ended, but what are your early expectations/impressions of next year’s team?
Destin: I'm excited to see if Dillon Sterling-Cole could snag the starting job. Him and Harry could be a sweet connection for two seasons. If DSC does win it and reaches his potential, Arizona State could be tough to beat.
Jones: I’m not expecting much. A seven-win season would be expected, but there needs to be tangible development. Most of the assistant coaches were in their first year, so maybe a full calendar year in Tempe allows for some continuity.
Madden: This year shouldn't provide anyone with a vote of confidence moving forward. Sure, there were injuries, but there were also a lot of flawed game plans, underperforming players and just bad football. Unless there are major changes defensively, I'd expect another middling year for the Maroon and Gold.
Pacleb: 8-4, and if not 8-4, I expect ASU to have a new head coach. (I hate saying that, btw.)
Pelton: The only way to go is up, right? I'll say 7-5.
Theodore: I'm not optimistic. For a long time I've looked at 2017 as the year that ASU seriously makes a run at the CFP, but with the same coaching staff that soured 2016 I don't expect anything but the same in 2017. Y'all know the overused phrase describing the definition of insanity. ASU ain't sane.