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2010 NCAA Football Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

2009 Record: 4-8 (2-7 in Pac-10)
2009 Bowl: N/A
Final 2009 AP Ranking:  Not Ranked
Head Coach: Dennis Erickson (18-18 at Arizona State, 167-83-1 All-Time)
Non-Conference Schedule: Portland State (11/4), Northern Arizona (9/11), at Wisconsin (9/18)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 22.3 points per game (8th in Pac-10)
Rushing Yards/Game: 120 (8th in Pac-10)
Passing Yards/Game: 215 (7th in Pac-10)
Total Yards/Game: 335 (9th in Pac-10) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 21.1 points per game (2nd in Pac-10)
Rushing Yards/Game: 108 (1st in Pac-10, 19th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 189 (1st in Pac-10)
Total Yards/Game: 297 (1st in Pac-10, 13th in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -0.17 per game (9th in Pac-10)
Penalties: 85 yards per game (last in Pac-10, last in Nation)

Returning Starters
Offense: 4
Defense: 5
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Samson Szakacsy, Soph (32 of 50 for 362 yds, 4 TD, 1 INT)
Rushing: RB Cameron Marshall, Soph (64 carries for 280 yds, 2 TD, 4.3 ypc, 25 ypg)
Receiving: WR Gerell Robinson, Jr (26 rec, 261 yds, 2.2 rec/game)
Tackles: LB Vontaze Burfict, Soph (69)
Sacks: DT Lawrence Guy, Jr (4.5)
Interceptions: 3 tied with 1

Pac-10 Unit Rankings
QB: Athlon Sports #9; Phil Steele #5
RB: Athlon Sports #9; Phil Steele #10
WR/TE: Athlon Sports #9; Phil Steele #9
OL: Athlon Sports #9; Phil Steele #9
DL: Athlon Sports #2; Phil Steele #2
LB: Athlon Sports #4; Phil Steele #4
DB: Athlon Sports #6; Phil Steele #6
ST: Phil Steele #6

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Sporting News: #97
Athlon Sports: #62

2010 Pre-Season Pac-10 Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #9
Phil Steele: #9

I think you know the saying "defense wins championships". Well, Arizona State had a pretty good defense last year. It was statistically one of the best defenses in the Pac-10 (they were in the Top 15 in yards allowed last year in the Nation). Unfortunately they couldn't win any conferences games that weren't against teams from Washington and finished the season by dropping 6 straight games (3 of the losses were by a total of 10 points). The Sun Devils look like they will have a pretty good defense again but can the offense rebound from a lackluster outing last year? We caught up with Arizona State student and Bleacher Report columnist Christopher Adams to gain more insight on the Sun Devils.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

Arizona State’s major strength would have to be their defense. After being one of the top defenses in the country in 2009, they should remain among the elite, if not the best. The loss of key seniors Dexter Davis, Mike Nixon, and Travis Goethel, will give sophomore Vontaze Burfict more leadership.

ASU’s biggest weakness is their overall offense. The quarterback situation is the main focal point of concern, along with the offensive line. The Sun Devils’ o-line has been riddled with injuries in recent years, resulting in a lack of big men to protect the QB. Dennis Erickson is looking to solve this problem by landing some big recruits, increasing the average size of the offensive line from 6’2” to 6’6”.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test and why?

The Sun Devils’ first major test will be at Wisconsin. Entering a hostile stadium with a newly introduced offense will likely set the tone for the rest of the season against their first top-25 team.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

With the exception of Portland State and NAU, every team will be feared. This holds especially true within the Pac-10. The Pac will be completely wide open, making it anyone’s taking. After finishing 2-7 in conference play last season (only beating the Washington schools) the Devils have to fear everyone and come prepared.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

The most impactful defensive player is without question, Vontaze Burfict. The sophomore linebacker was named to the Rotary Lombardi Preliminary watch list last month after being named Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year for 2009. Burfict is known to bring a level of intensity and passion to field, one hard hit after another.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

Whoever lands the starting quarterback gig. The competition between sophomore Brock Osweiler and Michigan transfer Steven Threet is close, and will remain that way through the conclusion of fall camp. No matter who gets the job, they have to perform. ASU has been without a reliable quarterback for two years now, putting them in the bottom of the barrel for total offense among FBS teams.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Aderious Simmons, a JUCO transfer, has been the focal point of enthusiasm for the revamped o-line for Dennis Erickson. With a stature of 6'7" and 320 pounds, Simmons will add size to the line. Although he will not arrive until the fall, Erickson plans to add him to the mix of starters immediately.

I'm a Georgia fan so I have to ask you this question. You faced UGA twice over the past 2 years. In those 2 games A.J. Green caught 16 passes for 312 yards and 2 TDs and blocked a FG to secure a win in last years game for Georgia. Is he the best player you faced last year?

Very sore topic in Tempe. A.J Green is without a doubt an exceptional player, but it is difficult to say he was the “best” player ASU had faced last year. In defense of the blocked kick, if ASU’s star kicker (and Lou Groza award winner) hadn’t been out with an injury, that kick would have gone in, just sayin’.

If there was a single player on the schedule this year that you thought could take over a game against you who is it?

I hate to say this, but it would have to be the Arizona Wildcats’ quarterback Nick Foles. Foles is making a name for himself by being one of the most consistent QB’s in the country, which is not good news to hear of our rivals to the south. He has the capability to break down the Sun Devil defense with his air-strike game. But then again, anything can happen in a heated rivalry game.

Are there any teams flying under the radar that you think could make a run for the Pac-10 title?

I’m at a cross between Washington and Oregon State. Jake Locker, a potential Heisman Candidate, has the potential to lead the Huskies to the top. The Huskies won big games last year, but also lost one’s that they should have won. Oregon State is definitely a team to watch for the Pac-10 crown. Returning most of their starters, including the notorious Rodgers brothers, they have an excellent chance if they can handle their tough out of conference schedule.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

My gut feeling is telling me 6-6 for the Sun Devils, seven wins maybe, but that might be pushing it. If the revamped offense, under newly appointed coordinator Noel Mazzone, can prove to be successful they will obtain at least 6 wins. After two consecutive losing seasons, any type of winning season is successful at this point for Arizona State.

Check out Christopher's work over at the Bleacher Report and follow him on twitter @ChrisAdams3.

Previous Pac-10 Previews 
Oregon Ducks
USC Trojans
Washington Huskies

Next Up: Stanford Cardinal

2010 Previews
ACC- Boston College Eagles, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins
Big 12- Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, USF Bulls, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big Ten- Michigan WolverinesMinnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers
Conference USA- Houston CougarsTulane Green Wave, UTEP Miners
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
Mountain West- Utah Utes
SEC- Auburn Tigers, Kentucky Wildcats, Mississippi Rebels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Vanderbilt Commodores
Sun Belt- Troy Trojans
WAC- New Mexico State Aggies

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