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ASU Football: Local media 2017 preseason roundtable

Here’s what the local media predicts for the 2017 Sun Devils.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Our Panel:

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

Justin Toscano - Devils Digest Football Writer (@JustinCToscano)

Kaelen Jones - Sun Devil Source Football Writer (@KaelenJones)

Ryan Clarke - Walter Cronkite Sports Network Football Writer (@RyanTClarke)

Jack Harris - Walter Cronkite Sports Network Football Writer (@Jack_A_Harris)

Anthony Totri - State Press Football Writer (@Anthony_Totri)

Mark Harris - State Press Football Writer (@Harris_Mark7)

Zach Pekale - Devils in Detail Football Writer (@ZachPekale)

Jordan Kaye - Devils in Detail Football Writer (@JordanKaye_23)


Categories Denny Toscano Jones Clarke J. Harris Totri M. Harris Pekale Kaye
Categories Denny Toscano Jones Clarke J. Harris Totri M. Harris Pekale Kaye
8 TDs for N'Keal Harry Push Over Over Under Push Over Over Over Under
800 yards for Demario Richard Over Under Over Over Over Under Over Under Under
4 starts for Blake Barnett Under Under Under Push Under Over Under Under Push
30 total team sacks Over Over Under Under Under Over Under Under Over
15 passing TDs for an ASU QB Over Over Push Under Under Under Over Over Under
Three 55-yard FGs for Brandon Ruiz Under Under Under Under Under Over Under Under Over
10 TDs for Kalen Ballage Over Over Over Over Over Push Over Over Under

Individual Awards

Categories Denny Toscano Jones Clarke J. Harris Totri M. Harris Pekale Kaye
Categories Denny Toscano Jones Clarke J. Harris Totri M. Harris Pekale Kaye
Leader in TDs Kalen Ballage Kalen Ballage Kalen Ballage Kalen Ballage Kalen Ballage Kalen Ballage Kalen Ballage Kalen Ballage Manny Wilkins
Leader in receptions N'Keal Harry N'keal Harry N'keal Harry N'Keal Harry N'Keal Harry N'Keal Harry N'Keal Harry N'Keal Harry N'Keal Harry
Leader in carries Demario Richard Kalen Ballage Demario Richard Kalen Ballage Demario Richard Kalen Ballage Demario Richard Kalen Ballage Demario Richard
Leader in tackles Christian Sam Koron Crump D.J. Calhoun D.J. Calhoun Christian Sam Christian Sam Christian Sam D.J. Calhoun Christian Sam
Leader in sacks Koron Crump Koron Crump Koron Crump Koron Crump Koron Crump Koron Crump Koron Crump Koron Crump Koron Crump
Leader in INTs Marcus Ball Chase Lucas Chad Adams Chad Adams Chad Adams Chase Lucas Dasmond Tatalatausi Chase Lucas Chad Adams
Freshman of the year Eno Benjamin Eno Benjamin Eno Benjamin Brandon Ruiz Brandon Ruiz Brandon Ruiz Brandon Ruiz Brandon Ruiz Eno Benjamin

Short Answer

Q: How do you envision the quarterback battle playing out?

Denny: I'd like to think that by year's end, one guy will have established himself in the role, but I'm skeptical. I doubt Wilkins will make it through a season without missing time due to injury, but while he projects to have great potential, we've not yet seen Barnett deliver it in spring or fall camps. Keep an eye on a potential return from Brady White to further muddy the picture as the quarterback competition remains unsettled heading into 2018.

Toscano: I think Manny Wilkins starts against New Mexico State and keeps the job for at least a few games. If Brady White returns mid-season, it could get interesting because I believe White has displayed the best arm talent of the quarterbacks this fall. White could make an impression if healthy, but I think there'll be a lot more stability to the position than last year.

Jones: I think Wilkins maintains the job for the better part of the season. If he falters -- or by the time I guess I'd say he reasonably does -- Brady White could theoretically be ready or be given a chance to assume the starting job, considering he's looked solid in his limited reps.

Clarke: I think Manny Wilkins will be the starter for the first 4-5 games, but if he has a slow start and the team is struggling, I could definitely see Blake Barnett being inserted to shake things up. There’s also the potential for Wilkins to get hurt, as he’s shown a tendency to run recklessly and leave himself exposed in the open field.

J. Harris: I see Wilkins getting the start in at least all of the non-conference games. Given the porous defenses ASU will play in their opening three games, the junior QB should be okay to begin the season. But, a brutal stretch to open Pac-12 play will expose Wilkin’s limitations in the passing department, and the run-happy quarterback will put himself in dangerous situations when bolting out of the pocket. Most likely, an injury to Wilkins will open the door for Barnett to play at some point in the season. But, if healthy, it would take some pretty awful performances for Graham to pull his returning starting quarterback.

Totri: This is the question every ASU fan is asking. To put it short and sweet Manny Wilkins will start the season, but there is no way Blake Barnett doesn't get a chance at starting in 2017. Barnett will start more games this year than Wilkins.

M. Harris: After a scrimmage on Aug. 19, head coach Todd Graham said, "Like I said, I've said it 100 times, we have a starting quarterback. The guy behind him has to beat him out." That starting quarterback he's talking about is Manny Wilkins, so expect Wilkins to be the starter.

Pekale: This is Manny Wilkins’s job to lose. Todd Graham has continued to list Wilkins as his starting quarterback and barring another injury, it seems unlikely that Wilkins will surrender the job. I don’t see Alabama transfer Blake Barnett doing enough to pry the starting role from Wilkins.

Kaye: I see Manny having a good start to the season and keeping the job without too many calls for Barnett early on. That could change during ASU’s brutal four-game stretch in which they have to play Stanford, Washington, Utah and USC. In that stretch, I believe Barnett will get an opportunity to start and if he makes the most of it, he should finish out the season s the starter.

Q: Will ASU improve from back-to-back seasons as the worst passing defense in the nation?

Denny: I think they'll show a modest improvement, despite losing their top two players from a year ago. While it will be a tough year for this very inexperienced group, I can see them ranking in the 80s or 90s nationally.

Toscano: I think ASU will improve because of its front seven and Phil Bennett's new player-friendly scheme, but perhaps not by much. I still think the secondary needs time to settle in and that could take a few games.

Jones: Yes, even if the improvements are minute, first-year coordinator Phil Bennett has simplified the defense enough and the Sun Devils are healthy enough (for now) up front that it take steps forward at some point this season.

Clarke: It’s hard to imagine this team improving in the secondary after losing Kareem Orr to transfer and Armand Perry to medical retirement. Maybe fresh faces and an adjusted scheme will help, but a combination of inexperience and lack of talent will ultimately be this group’s downfall. It’s looking more and more like a three-peat for this group as the worst passing defense in the FBS.

J. Harris: Will ASU finish last in the country in pass defense again? I don’t think so. But, that doesn’t mean they will be much better from the last couple of seasons. The safety duo of Dasmond Tautalatasi and Chad Adams is physical and fast, and will make plays over the course of the year. But with inexperienced cornerbacks in Joey Bryant, Kobe Williams, and Chase Lucas figuring to be relied on in perimeter coverage, things could get dicey.

Totri: There is nowhere for this secondary to go except up. There was lot of concern with the defensive losses this offseason, but they may turn out to be a blessings in disguise.

M. Harris: Yes, but expect plenty of growing pains with newcomers Joey Bryant and Kobe Williams likely ending up with playing time. Also, the schedule will help them out, since they won't play talented quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, Davis Webb, and Luke Falk like they did last season.

Pekale: Having the worst passing defense nationally in consecutive seasons has been a tough pill to swallow for the Sun Devils. ASU is poised to improve on what have been two abysmal seasons on the defensive side of the ball but don’t expect a major improvement this season. There is more talent within the secondary than there has been in past years but a lack of experience is going to make the growing process a slow one.

Kaye: Definitely. Coming into the season with two new starting corners seems like it would be a concern. But no matter if former ASU track and field athlete Joey Bryant or JUCO transfer Kobe Williams’ technique falters, they will always have their speed. That speed should be a huge benefit in new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s system to minimize the damage of a big reception.

Q: Which player in the secondary is the most important to watch?

Denny: . More than any one player, I think this will be due to defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's influence and hard-nosed coaching. His simplified schemes and streamlined communication will be a great help.

Toscano: I think Kobe Williams will be interesting to watch. He's short, but players and coaches laud his footwork and athleticism, and he's been on first team virtually the entire fall. It'll be intriguing to witness his first look at Division I football.

Jones: The players to watch are seniors J'Marcus Rhodes and Marcus Ball. Rhodes appears to have solidified his starting role at Spur, but Ball also possesses experience at the position.

Clarke: I would say J’Marcus Rhodes because he has to play an important leadership role in a secondary that lacks experience.

J. Harris: Williams is the key guy, as it looks like he will be lining up in single-man coverage the most. If he can play adequately, it would free up the rest of the defense to do what they do best: get to the quarterback. But, that’s a big if for a guy who has never played at the NCAA Division I level before.

Totri: Chase Lucas is the guy I see making a name for himself this season. He may not be listed as a starter at the moment, but his athleticism is sure to help him carve out a niche in ASU's defensive backfield.

M. Harris: For me, it has to me corner Joey Bryant. It looks like the JUCO transfer will get significant playing time. He still has some things to learn about the position, but his athleticism could make him an interesting player to watch for ASU.

Pekale: Among the many new faces in the secondary, Joey Bryant is must-watch player in 2017. Bryant, who last played football in junior college, is a raw talent but possesses the speed and size necessary to cover the boundary side of the field.

Kaye: With such inexperience at the corner position, safety Chad Adams will be the most important secondary player to watch. It will be his job to provide help to those corners, and in his senior year, make up for their lack of experience.

Q: What does Todd Graham have to do this season to get off the hot seat?

Denny: I feel eight wins is a lock, but I think how this team is trending is the biggest key. Last year, the losing streak, and most damningly, a lack of effort left a sour taste in everyone's mouth. If the defense can show modest improvement and the offense can live up to their lofty expectations, things will go well. But more importantly, ending the year showing that this team is getting better, playing harder, and trending in the right direction (plus, of course, winning back the Territorial Cup) will see the Graham era continue.

Toscano: I think seven wins should get him off the hot seat because I'm not sure this team has the depth or experience for us to realistically expect 8-9 wins. Could they get there? Sure. But for the sake of this question, seven wins defies most of the preseason predictions for this team, and it'll be an added bonus if the Sun Devils show progress. However, Todd Graham isn't Ray Anderson's hire, and with Anderson's NFL connections, it'll be interesting to see if he wants his own "guy."

Jones: Win seven or eight games. Most Vegas sports books have the Sun Devils in the five- or six-win range. If game surpasses that by such a margin, that should be more than enough to relieve him of a spot on the hot seat.

Clarke: He has to win eight games. Ray Anderson and the athletic department don’t have the patience for a .500 or worse season at this stage of Graham’s tenure. However, I don’t necessarily think he should be fired if he doesn’t meet expectations, especially considering what he’s invested in the program and ASU community.

J. Harris: To keep his job, Graham just needs to get to a bowl game. But to truly get off the hot-seat, he needs at least eight wins. Anything near that victory total seems unlikely, especially given the ridiculously tough schedule his team faces. For Graham to maintain long-term success in Tempe, he needs to survive this season, and hope that ASU can begin ascending back to the top of the conference next year.

Totri: I actually answered this question in my podcast with Jack Harris (shameless promotion for Double Devil Podcast). The only way I see Graham keeping his job is if the Sun Devils are ranked. It's a huge task I don't see getting achieved, but I firmly believe the new regime of Phil Bennett and Billy Napier was put in place for the years to come, no matter what Graham does in 2017.

M. Harris: CTG needs to finish the regular season with at least a 7-5 record. That said, being at least competitive in games against Stanford, UW, Utah, and USC could help his cause. But hey, that road game to Corvallis in November doesn't look as tough as it once did!

Pekale: The pressure is on Graham to bring the Sun Devils back to a bowl game after posting a record of 11-14 over the past two seasons. ASU needs to win seven games this year with at least four coming against PAC-12 opponents. Having a team lacking experience lowers expectations but Graham needs to re-establish a winning culture.

Kaye: To simply keep his job, I think it’s going to take ASU making a bowl and looking very competitive in their losses. To get off of the hot heat, Graham will need to orchestrate an eight or nine win season, showing the fan base, and Ray Anderson, that 10-win seasons, like the program saw in 2013 and 2014, weren’t a fluke and may be right around the corner again.

Q: What will Arizona State’s final record be and where will the Sun Devils finish in the South?

Denny: 7-5, 4th in the South. USC is nearly a lock on top, and Arizona on the bottom, but the rest of the division is pretty close. After the Trojans, I think Utah will exceed expectations yet again thanks to their endless supply of big angry linemen on both sides of the ball and an improved passing game. Colorado takes a huge step back defensively, but their offense is good enough to carry them to a third-place finish. The Sun Devils should slide into the fourth spot, ahead of an overrated UCLA squad.

Toscano: Record: 6-6. Finish in the Pac-12 South: 4th place

Jones: I've got them going 6-6 and tied for fourth in the South.

Clarke: 5-7, fifth in the Pac-12 South

J. Harris: If Wilkins shows improvement from last year, especially in obvious passing downs, this is a bowl team. But, anything less will result in a five-win season for the second year in a row. I see ASU losing one of their games to San Diego State or Texas Tech, going 1-5 over their middle six games against the Pac-12’s best, and then finishing 2-1 over their final three games against UCLA, Oregon State, and Arizona. A 3-6 mark in the conference will be good for fifth in the South division, ahead of only Arizona. But they should win the Territorial Cup. Should.

Totri: Looking through the schedule, I don't foresee ASU winning more than five games. I think they win their first two, last two and one in between. I do firmly believe the Sun Devils will finish fifth in the South, the only team worse will be who other than UA.

M. Harris: The Sun Devils finish 6-6 and fourth in the Pac-12 South

Pekale: Similar to what I mentioned previously, I think the Sun Devils will be 7-5 on the season (4-5 in the PAC-12) and will finish fifth in the South division.

Kaye: I see ASU going 7-5 in the regular season and finishing third in the Pac-12 South behind USC and Utah. With so many weapons on offense, putting points on the board shouldn’t be too big of a problem. From there, it will be up to the defense to keep them in, and ahead, throughout the season. I don’t see them winning a game during their midseason stretch, so the final four games against Colorado, UCLA, Oregon State and Arizona will either make or break their season.