1. “Taylor-made” offense.
Taylor Kelly is the key behind ASU’s high octane offense in the desert. With a season under his belt, the 6’2”redshirt junior will need to maintain the efficient level he achieved last year.
He passed for 3,039 yards, 29 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. He had a completion percentage of 67.1 percent and was third in rushing on the team last year with 516 yards.
People may talk about the quarterback north of Tempe in Eugene, but Kelly is ready to silence all critics and prove he is better.
2. Survive a murderous early season schedule.
The Sun Devils' first game is against FCS team Sacramento State. After that tune-up game, it gets a bit difficult. Up next it’s Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC and Notre Dame. Wow! If Kelly and company can survive that four game stretch, the Rose Bowl is a realistic possibly.
3. Wait for my command, then unleash hell (on defense)
I think when Russell Crowe said that line in “Gladiator,” he was prophesizing about the 2013 Sun Devils' defense. The defense will be led by defensive tackle Will Sutton (Lombardi and Outland Award watchlist), and Carl Bradford and Chris Young who both earned spots on the Butkus Award preseason watch list.
This trio paved the way for a Sun Devils' defense that led the nation in 2012 with nine tackles per loss per game and was second in the nation with four sacks per contest. The Sun Devils return eight starters on defense. If the defense can play consistent and fast, then ASU will be in great shape to win the Pac-12.
4. Marion Grice steps up and takes over.
Grice was the leading rusher for ASU last season in a part-time role. He shared the duties with D.J. Foster and Cameron Marshall in a three-headed attack. Grice finished with 679 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, he was best known for catching the ball out of the backfield as he caught 41 passes for 425 yards and eight touchdowns.
He broke out in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl rushing for 156 yards and three touchdowns. This year, he needs to take some pressure off of Kelly and rush for over 1,200 yards.
5. Chris Coyle continues to be a matchup nightmare.
Not only will defenses have to contend with Grice and Kelly, but they have to deal with a hybrid tight end as well. Coyle set a single-season school record in 2012 with 57 receptions and five touchdowns. Don’t believe how good he is, ask Illinois. In that game, he caught 10 passes for 131 yards. With his size and speed, he will be able to stretch the field and keep the chains moving.
6. Moving companies, please don't contact Todd Graham.
He would be a fool to leave ASU for another gig. We know how it ended when he left Pittsburgh and his track record makes him not to be trusted.
Leaving three programs after one season, is risky, but I think he has found a home in Tempe.
This will probably be one of the best Sun Devils' teams in the school history and the recruits he is bringing in means that Arizona State will be relevant in the Pac-12 for years to come.
Unless the NFL comes calling, I think it is safe to say that Graham has found a permanent home.
7. ASU is loaded up front on offense.
An offense is as good as the big boys up front and ASU has some good ones. ASU returns three starters up front led by left tackle Evan Finkenberg and newly right tackle Jamil Douglas who started 13 games last season at left guard. Grice and Kelly should feel safe knowing they have three veterans led by Douglas paving the way for them.
8. The wide receiver position needs to be more consistent
Jaelen Strong and Rick Smith will need to solidify the outside for the Sun Devils. ASU's offense will be nearly unstoppable if these two players step up. Look for Kelly to still rely on Coyle and Grice to catch the ball, but if the Devils want to play in Pasadena in January, then Strong and Smith are going to have to be difference makers.
9. The ASU secondary will continue to shine.
The Sun Devils' front seven could be one of the best units in the country which makes the job easier for the Sun Devils' secondary. In 2012, the Sun Devils defense was third in the nation in pass defense, a big improvement from the 108th rank in 2011.
ASU is set at one corner with senior Osahon Irabor who is one of the Pac-12’s best cover men. Opposite of him, it will be wide open. Graham is hoping that redshirt sophomore Rashad Wadood has shaken off the injury bug and will be healthy in 2013. If he can stay healthy, then ASU could have the top defense in the country.
10. If the game is close… bet on ASU
ASU has struggled to find a consistent field goal kicker. After all, special teams are part of the game as well and having an effective and efficient kicker could be the difference between playing in the Rose Bowl or the Holiday Bowl.
Enter Zane Gonzalez who ESPN.com scouting services states that he is one of the top field goal kickers in the nation. He has the ability to kick the ball from 60 yards and sent the majority of his kickoffs for touchbacks.
Gonzalez is young, so expect some mistakes and misses to occur, however, if he has ice flowing through his veins that could be trouble for the Pac-12.