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ASU Football: Local media preseason roundtable

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

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Our Panel:

Ryan Bafaloukos - House of Sparky Co-Managing Editor (@RyanBafo)

Connor Pelton - House of Sparky Co-Managing Editor (@ConnorPelton28)

Kaelen Jones - House of Sparky Football Writer (@kaelenjones)

Zac Pacleb - House of Sparky Multimedia reporter (@ZacPacleb)

Blane Ferguson - House of Sparky Writer (@BlaneFerguson)

Miles Todd - House of Sparky Multimedia Reporter (@5280fs_s)

Fabian Ardaya - Devils Digest/Campus Rush Reporter (@FabianArdaya)

Justin Toscano - Devis Digest Reporter (@JustinCToscano)

Stefan Modrich - State Press Football Reporter (@StefanJModrich)

Mathew Tonis - State Press Football Reporter (@Tonis_The_Tiger)

Brad Denny - Former House of Sparky Editor/3 TV Sports Writer - (@BDenny29)

Over/Under

Bafaloukos Pelton Jones Pacleb Todd Ferguson Ardaya Toscano Modrich Tonis Denny

20 Passing TDs

for an ASU QB

Over Over Over Under Over Under Under Over Under Under Under

1,300 Rush Yards for Demario Ricahrd

Under Under Under Under Over Under Push Over Under Over Under
10 TDs for Tim White Over Push Push Under Under Over Under Over Over Under Under
60 catches for an ASU receiver Under Over Over Over Over Over Under Under Under Over Under
1.5 times a QB starts a game and gets benched Over Under Over Under Under Over Under Under Under Under Over

Individual Awards

Bafaloukos Pelton Jones Pacleb Todd Ferguson Ardaya Toscano Modrich Tonis Denny
Leader in Tackles Sam Fiso Fiso Sam Sam Sam Sam Fiso Fiso Sam Sam
Leader in Sacks Wicker Calhoun Wicker/Crump Wicker Fiso Wicker Wicker Wicker Fiso Calhoun Wicker
Leader in INTs Orr Orr Perry/Rhodes Orr Orr Chandler Perry Orr Orr Orr Perry
Offensive MVP Richard Richard Richard Richard Richard Richard Richard Richard Richard Richard Ballage
Defensive MVP Fiso Orr Smallwood Sam Fiso Wicker Perry Wicker Moeakiola Sam Sam

QB Who Starts the

Final Game of the Year

White Wilkins White Wilkins Wilkins White Perkins (I'm Stubborn) White Wilkins White Wilkins
Freshman or RS Fr. Who Makes the Greatest Impact Harry Harry Harry Robbie Robinson Chase Lucas White Ralson and Lawal Harry Cohl Cabral Zach Robertson Harry

Short Answer

Q: What would you consider a successful season for the Sun Devils in 2016?

Denny: Making a bowl would be a nice accomplishment, but this team needs to show enough that it put them in a position to be consistent contenders in 2017 and beyond. Simply put, get back to playing the confident, mistake-free football of 2012-2014 and prove that 2015 was a fluke.

This may not manifest itself in 10 wins, but just consistently playing that brand of football will be the key. That intangible side is critical, because the talent situation is in tremendous shape. I feel this defense has elite potential, and the offensive line and playmaker spots on offense are tantalizing. Given the looming presence of Dillon Sterling-Cole and commit Ryan Kelley, I don't feel that definitively answering the quarterback-of-the-future question is possible this year, even with a good season by Manny Wilkins or Brady White.

Tonis: Finishing the season with a definitive direction. With so much in flux between the quarterbacks and a mostly new coaching staff, ASU is a team in flux from top to bottom. So the 2016 season should be considered successful if the Sun Devils can end the season with a clear plan and path for the future. Oh, and beating U of A.

Modrich: The obvious criteria are sweeping the nonconference slate and keeping the Territorial Cup. Assuming they can manage the former (and ideally the latter) I would consider splitting the series with the Los Angeles schools and road games against the Pacific Northwest schools (Oregon and Washington) a major positive.

All of those teams were ranked in the AP Preseason Top 25. If the team is satisfied with its quarterback situation and new offense, makes strides in the secondary, and comes out relatively healthy with no major injuries to projected 2017 starters or potential NFL combine-bound prospects? So much the better.

Toscano: I think eight regular-season wins can be considered a success for this team, which is going to field a first-year quarterback and will be dealing with inexperience elsewhere too. Additionally, the conference schedule is a gauntlet and the fact that ASU misses Oregon State this year doesn't help its case.

However, hitting the eight-win mark in the regular season exceeds the expectations of most national pundits and perhaps highlights development from the younger players. Obviously the team will strive for more, but given its situation, I think progress would be a success.

Ardaya: Since people want to compare this season to Todd Graham's first at ASU, then a successful season would have to mirror what the team accomplished that year. He won eight games (seven in the regular season), but most importantly built a team identity around players such as Taylor Kelly, Will Sutton and Carl Bradford and was able to establish a positive trend going into the following season.

If the team finishes say, 8-4 as I think they will, can definitively say they have their quarterback and have have players in place such as JoJo Wicker, Tashon Smallwood and Armand Perry on the defensive end that can implement Todd Graham's defensive system well, then they're all set. Is it idealistic? Yes. Is it possible? Sure.

Ferguson: I WOULD WALK AWAY SAYING THAT 2016 WAS A SUCCESS IF THEY WIN SEVEN GAMES INCLUDING THE BOWL GAME AND SOMEHOW WIN ON THE ROAD AGAINST ARIZONA.WITH ESSENTIALLY A FRESHMAN QUARTERBACK REGARDLESS OF WHO WINS THE JOB, EIGHT WINS WOULD MAKE ME ECSTATIC, BUT SEVEN AND A VICTORY IN TUCSON WOULD BE IMPRESSIVE FOR WHOMEVER TAKES THE MAJORITY OF SNAPS THIS SEASON.

I ALSO THINK THERE ARE SMALLER BATTLES TO WATCH THAT WOULD DEFINITELY IMPROVE THE PERCEPTION OF THE SEASON SUCH AS HAVING A CLEAR, ESTABLISHED QUARTERBACK BY THE END OF THE YEAR, RICHARD AND BALLAGE SHOWING THEY WILL BE A FORCE IN THEIR SENIOR SEASONS, AND AN IMPROVED PASS DEFENSE.

Note: Blane chose to answer in all caps because he is THAT excited for the season.

Todd: A successful season for the Sun Devils would be finishing above .500 and being in a somewhat notable bowl game. Last season was such a letdown (mostly because of all the hype it was given) that the Sun Devils are not expected to impress too much this season. Finishing above .500 would not only be an improvement, but set the tone to be one of the powerhouses in the Pac-12 south again.

Pacleb: An 8-4 record with a solid and consistent tone across the board would be successful. ASU suffered in multiple areas a season ago, but considering the roster and coaching staff turnover, some consistency in play would be a nice sign. ASU seemed to be out of character last season, especially on defense. The high-volume pressure didn't yield a high volume of turnovers. Instead, it conceded big plays. Tackles were missed in bunches. Things Todd Graham's defense hangs its hat on were not met.

Jones: I'll just list them out: Winning 8 games—could be regular season or post-bowl win total. Developing N'Keal Harry. Getting Koron Crump and/or D.J. Calhoun to emerge as a pass-rushing threats out of the linebacker corp.

Pelton: First and foremost, an improvement on last year's six wins is a must. The entire 2015 season was a step back for Graham and company, and while one year like that can be seen as a small blip on a program's radar, two or more can lead to a serious hole that takes a long time to dig out of (read: Colorado, Oregon State, etc.).

Beyond a step forward in win total, I think a successful season would include the furthering development of future playmakers like N'Keal Harry, Kareem Orr, and Manny Wilkins or Brady White. The cherry on top would be a win in the Territorial Cup and a third straight season of pulling an upset in a game where the Sun Devils are at least a two-touchdown underdog.

Bafaloukos: Beating Arizona, especially this year when there aren't great expectations, is important in 2016. I agree with Fabian that if we are comparing this to Todd Graham's first year, establishing a quarterback is the most crucial part of the season in my opinion.

In 2012, the Sun Devils went just 8-5 but Taylor Kelly established himself as the quarterback and it set ASU up for back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014. I see 2016 similar in that developing the young skill players in the secondary and at wide receivers along with establishing the quarterback position is most important and that is how I determine success.

Q: Who is your breakout player for 2016?

Denny: Zach Robertson. The hulking tackle has the size and skills to be the next in a long line of standout Sun Devil offensive linemen. I think he has All-Conference ability, and he should put together a Jamil Douglas/Evan Finkenberg-like career that includes at or above 40 starts.

Tonis: Tyler Whiley. Todd Graham has been infatuated with Whiley since he stepped on campus three years ago and I think this is the year he steps into a leadership role on the defense. He's been practicing with the starters a decent amount during fall practice and Graham is once again high on him. Don't be surprised if he's one of the more productive players on the defense by the end of the year.

Modrich: N'Keal Harry. Opposing defenses are going to zero in on Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage, and Tim White. This will open up plenty of favorable matchups for one of the most explosive freshman wide receivers in the country, and he'll be playing with extra pride as a hometown favorite.

Frankly, there are several rookie skill players who could make an impact on both sides of the ball. Honorable mention to Cameron Smith, who should be motivated to bounce back after suffering a knee injury that kept him out for the entire 2015 season.

Toscano: Kalen Ballage. I feel like he could have a huge year. And although he may be considered a bit too talented to be a true breakout player, I feel like he did not get a fair crack at last season as he dealt with mono and it sidetracked him. I expect a big 2016 season from him.

Ardaya: I want to say JoJo Wicker, mostly because he's the player who I see being put most into a position where he can succeed and be productive. Wicker has the potential to be a special player as a pass-rusher in the Pac-12, and by playing Devilbacker -- the position he's been at for most of fall camp -- he will be constantly put into positions to do just that. Look at Antonio Longino, for example, who occupied the role despite not being an ideal fit and still finished tied for the Pac-12 lead with 11 sacks. With Wicker, the production could be incredible.

Ferguson: THE BREAKOUT PLAYER FOR ME THIS SEASON IS JOJO WICKER. IN THIS SCENARIO, AN IMPROVED FRONT SEVEN IS THE STORYLINE OF THE YEAR FOR ARIZONA STATE AND WICKER IS THE REASON BEHIND IT. SINCE WILL SUTTON LEFT CAMPUS, THE SUN DEVILS HAVE HAD TROUBLE FINDING SOMEBODY TO GENERATE SUBSTANTIAL PRESSURE FROM THE LINE AND WICKER COULD BE THE ANSWER THEY'VE BEEN WAITING FOR.

Todd: Tim White. The redshirt senior had a pretty good year last year finishing the season with over 700 yards and eight touchdowns. This year he is poised to be the main man to give the ball to again. Graham recently said that they need to have the ball in Tim White's hands "as much as possible".

However, where he will become the real breakout player is on the other side of the ball as White is set to be experimented with on defense. Known to be one of the fastest on the team, he should have no problem keeping up with receivers and breaking up passes. His versatility will be key to the Sun Devils this year and as a result be the "breakout player".

Pacleb: Does Kalen Ballage count? He's been the ‘change-of-pace' back to Richard, but he hasn't ever been healthy on opening day. If he stays healthy and ASU consistently uses he and Richard in a dual-tailback system, it'll be outright nasty to watch....Especially when it gets to those goal line snaps on offense.

Jones: On offense, it could end up being Harry or Harvey, depending on who's on the field more. Defensively, Robbie Robinson is someone who will at some point end up seeing the field more often. Koron Crump could lead the team in sacks if the defense is as aggressive as it was last year. If you're talking unsung heroes, that's Ami Latu. He's gonna be fun this year.

Pelton: I'll roll with N'Keal Harry. There isn't a player on this roster that jumps out to me as a surefire breakout pick, so Harry seems to be as good a pick as any. The freshman has had a great fall camp and could very quickly become a favorite target for whichever quarterback ends up being under center.

Bafaloukos: I'm going with N'Keal Harry for a few reasons. He plays a position that is easier to transition from high school to college than most and he is as of now slated to start. Most recruiting services hit on the elite players in a class, the five starts and top-50 players usually pan out and Harry was considered the No. 1 WR in the nation by multiple services. He has a good chance to be special.

Q: Which game will make-or-break ASU's season?

Denny: Arizona. It may be the easy answer, but it's also the right one. Given how things play out, it could very well be the difference between bowl eligibility, and perhaps even who finishes third in the Pac-12 South. In a year with so many uncertainties and questions, holding onto the Territorial Cup for a fourth year in the last five would be huge.

Tonis: Sep. 24 vs. Cal. While early in the season, ASU's game against the Golden Bears could set the team up for a run of success or abject failure. After seeing what Hawai'I was able to do to the Cal defense, Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage should be licking their chops for their chance to hash the Bears. But if the Sun Devils struggle in their conference opener, the season could go south quickly, causing turmoil in Sun Devil Nation.

Modrich: If history is any indication (and it sure appears to be) the USC-UCLA segment of Arizona State's schedule sets the tone for the rest of the season. Since 1980, each of ASU's 10-win seasons featured - at minimum - a split or a sweep of the L.A. schools. ASU opened Pac-12 play at home against UCLA in 2014 and USC in 2015, and were embarrassed both times - the Sun Devils were outscored 104-41 in those games.

You know the rest - Jaelen Strong did this, Kalen Ballage did that, and ASU bounced back to pull off road upsets of ranked South division rivals and (temporarily) right the ship. In 2004, the last time the Sun Devils played at the Coliseum before returning home to play the Bruins, they were blown out by a historically dominant top-ranked USC squad and rebounded to edge UCLA after trailing by 11 in the fourth quarter. When the clock runs out at Sun Devil Stadium on Oct. 8, we'll know much more about where this team is headed.

Toscano: Oregon on the road. ASU plays USC and UCLA in early October, and depending how those go, the Oregon trip a few weeks later may set up an interesting scenario. If ASU wins, it provides momentum for the last three games of the season, which includes a difficult road game at Washington. But if the Sun Devils lose, it may be the nail in the coffin for their hopes of competing to climb the South.

Ardaya: I'm tempted to say Week 2 against Texas Tech, but theoretically ASU could win that game and eventually start out 4-0 and still stumble to a 6-6 finish. The back-to-back games against the LA schools will be tough, as always, though I see the game at USC being more vulnerable than what is shown on paper.

The Territorial Cup is always an important game on the docket. But I would have to say the game that will reveal much of ASU's true identity will come at home against Washington State. With a quarterback in Luke Falk running Mike Leach's "Air Raid" system that has given ASU fits in years past, Wazzu gives ASU a challenging foe at home in what should still be a winnable game. Take care of business, and there's a sign of promise. If they lose, you could question whether the program is remaining stagnant.

Ferguson: I'M GOING TO GO WITH THE WASHINGTON STATE GAME ON OCTOBER 22. IT'S NOT OUT OF THIS WORLD TO BELIEVE THAT ASU COULD HAVE A 5-2 RECORD AT THAT GAME IF THEY WIN THEIR FIRST FOUR, LOSE TO UCLA AND USC, AND COME BACK WITH A WIN AGAINST COLORADO.

A WIN AGAINST WASHINGTON STATE AT HOME WOULD MAKE THE SUN DEVILS BOWL ELIGIBLE, WASHINGTON STATE IS A PRESEASON TOP-25 TEAM AND ASU GOES ON THE ROAD AFTER THAT FOR THREE OF THEIR NEXT FOUR INCLUDING GAMES AT OREGON, WASHINGTON, AND ARIZONA.

Todd: The game against Arizona. By that time it will be towards the end of the season and ASU will need a win to help their Pac-12 south status to which they will probably be near Arizona in the standings. With a win they can increases chances at a better bowl game and most likely be towards the top of the Pac-12 south. Plus, it's the Territorial Cup. Even if you're having a bad season, if you beat your rivals you can always look back and say "Well, at least we won the Territorial Cup".

Pacleb: Cal on September 24. Pac-12 play is what matters. If ASU isn't trending toward a team that can exceed expectations at this point, it should have it pretty figured out by the end of this game. Cal isn't the Goff-headed monster in year's past, so ASU can get itself into a nice groove off the bat. If it doesn't, well, maybe this team isn't supposed to make much noise anyway.

Jones: Oct. 1 @ USC — if ASU could somehow (*somehow*) start the season 4-0, a win on the road against USC could set them up nicely ahead of four conference away games, plus home contests against UCLA and Washington State. Starting out 5-0 gives them plenty of room for error.

Pelton: I don't know if there is one, but the season finale at Arizona is close. The final game of the season is always big, and this one should be no different. It all depends on how the previous 11 games shake out, but Arizona State could likely be playing to either get bowl eligible (a slight disappointment, but important nonetheless) or to play itself into a quality bowl game like the Alamo or Holiday (a decent goal considering the preseason expectations).

Factor in the rivalry aspect and the fact that no game on this schedule is a "make-or-break" in the traditional sense (is there such a thing for a team that won't be in contention for a New Year's Six bowl?), and you've got a de facto make-or-break game.

Bafaloukos: I'll go with one that hasn't been said already and that's Sept. 10 against Texas Tech. We are going to find out how much the secondary has improved and how much the defensive coaching staff has improved. One of my biggest issues from last year was the mistakes you saw in Week 1 you said against West Virginia. Will we see the same breakdowns on defense? The same blitzing?

It's also going to be Manny Wilkins' first true test (assuming he starts against NAU) of his ASU career. I'm also interested to see what kind of leash he has.

Q: When the dust settles, what is ASU's final regular season record and where do they finish in the South?

Denny: 7-5, 3rd in the South. This will be an uneven year for the Sun Devils, full of surprising successes and growing-pain laden setbacks. However, there is just too much talent, on the field and on the sidelines, for this not to be a step forward for the program. The defense should excel, the young offense will flash tremendous promise, and 2017 will be eagerly anticipated.

Tonis: 7-5 and a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl. The quarterback controversy won't cost the Sun Devils out of conference, but conference play could be a struggle as the toughest games are at home and going on the road is always tough. Todd Graham won't let this team not get into a bowl game, but 2016 won't necessarily be fun to watch.

Modrich: I was one of many to jump on the #RoadToGlendale bandwagon and naively assumed that ASU would roll through its 2015 schedule with just one loss. However, I managed to accurately predict losses to USC and Oregon last season, even if the Sun Devils are generally underdogs in those matchups anyway.

I'm hesitant to to assume that this is the year that the bottom falls out just as an overcorrection to last year's excessive optimism. At the same time, it's conceivable that this team could go winless on the road in conference play if Colorado makes a big enough leap and a lucky bounce or two favors Arizona in Tucson. Best-case scenario: The Sun Devils will go 8-4 and finish third in the Pac-12 South.

Toscano: 7-5, 4th place in the South

Ardaya: I think ASU finishes its regular season at 8-4, beats Arizona in the Territorial Cup and finishes in third in the Pac-12 South ahead of Utah, Arizona and Colorado.

Ferguson: I'M GOING TO SAY ASU GOES 7-5 THIS YEAR AND FINISHES THIRD IN THE DIVISION BEHIND USC AND UCLA. THE WHOLE CONFERENCE IS GOING TO BE BONKERS THIS SEASON. STRAP YOURSELVES IN FOLKS.

Todd: At the end the Sun Devils will be 8-4 finishing third in the Pac-12 South.

Pacleb: 7-5, 4th in the South.

Jones: Keep going back and forth between 7-5 and 8-4. If they start off 4-0, then beat USC (see: answer to prev. question)—great. Entering the second half of the year 5-0 or 4-1, compared to a 3-2 start with over half of the remaining games on the road is much more appealing.

That said, I think they get it done. Defensively, this coaching staff is more focused on technique and honing skill sets for these guys rather than just letting them play, which means they'll be more sound as a unit this year. Offensively, if the QB and OL situation come together (very broad, yes), OC Chip Lindsey has simplified the offense, and appears to be cooking up some fun stuff. He's got a ton of weapons to play with, so even if the QB/OL doesn't play well, I think the offense will be explosive, at the very least competitive.

Think the South is a mess (when isn't it?). ASU will finish third, unless both USC and/or UCLA gift them the division.

Pelton: 7-5 and fourth in the South. This is an intriguing team to me as there is lots of young talent and a coach that traditionally does best when expectations are low. With that being said, I think predicting anything more than seven or eight wins would be silly, but this is a crazy division, in an unpredictable conference, in a wild sport.

I think seven wins with a trip to the Las Vegas or Cactus Bowl sounds about right, but this schedule sets up very nicely for a team that will need time early in the season to find its footing. If the maroon and gold are able to surprise and pull an upset against USC or UCLA, they could very well be 7-1 two-thirds of the way through the season - right in the mix for a South Division title before the schedule really toughens up.

Bafaloukos: When I went through the schedule I saw six wins, including losses to Arizona and Texas Tech. The secondary is unproven, we really don't know if ASU can generate a pass rush with four rushers and there are question marks surrounding the quarterback and offensive line.

The four most crucial positions in football are cornerback, defensive end/pass rusher, left tackle and quarterback. We really don't know what we have there with the Sun Devils and that's why I see a six-win season in store for Todd Graham and company.