This Arizona State football team is hungry.
They are ready to feast on the likes of top-ranked BCS teams including Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame, and that is just in the first five weeks of the regular season.
The nation’s 14th ranked offense with 38.4 points per game in 2012 finished the season, dare I say, en fuego. Averaging 49.7 points in their final three games, the Sun Devils finished the year with three consecutive wins for the first time in 34 years.
That is an amazing feat as the Sun Devils have won their division only three times in that span. It is also the first time that Arizona State has won the Territorial Cup and their bowl game. The Sun Devils are chomping at the bit to get back on the field to prove that they are truly a legit team. For the first time in a long time, the media outside of the metro Phoenix area is also taking notice.
The Pac-12 media tabbed Arizona State as the No. 2 team in the south division, but what is more impressive is the 10 first-place votes that the Sun Devils received.
The returning offensive and defensive squads are going to be huge, with record-breaking years from quarterback Taylor Kelly and running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster.
The defensive squad returns consensus All-American and the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton and his partner in destruction, Carl Bradford (pictured).
Bradford and Sutton became just the first duo in Sun Devil history to post double digits in sacks in the same season since 1994. There were 51 FBS teams that finished with fewer sacks than Sutton and Bradford (24.5).
Everybody is preparing for the returning studs, but who are the up-and-coming studs that will make an impact in the foreseeable future?
Here are the five players most likely to play in 2013 and will shine in years to come.
Marcus Ball: Defensive Back
Marcus Ball is the consummate athlete. He played safety, outside linebacker and quarterback at Westerville South High School. If that wasn’t enough to convince you of his athletic prowess, the night before he signed with the Devils, he put up a school-record 43 points for the basketball team.
Coach Graham said about Ball:
“Marcus is a yes-sir, no-sir type of guy. He came here because he loves the discipline aspect of it. A born leader. Already earned the respect of the upperclassmen. Big, strong, fast. What’s there not to like?”
Ball, the younger brother of Wisconsin offensive lineman, Ray Ball, originally committed to the Badgers last year but decided to look elsewhere when head coach Bret Bielema left the program. Ray Ball and the rest of the Wisconsin football team will visit Tempe on September 14th to take on the Sun Devils, this will most likely be the first time we see the younger Ball in action.
Chans Cox: Linebacker
Cox was ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 3 recruit out of Arizona, the No. 13 linebacker in the country and the No. 151 recruit overall. On the other side,Scout.com rated him as the No. 1 fullback in the county and the No. 148 recruit overall.
Coach Graham said about Cox:
“He chose ASU over just about every other college in the country; Notre Dame was one that was the biggest competition. I think we signed the best player in the state that fits us, and that’s Chans Cox. I’m very excited about him. He has unbelievable athleticism and the biggest thing is the character of this man and the leadership that he provides. He epitomizes everything we want in a player.”
Cox is the third big-name athlete who has elected to “stay home” and play for Coach Graham and the Sun Devils. The top players in the state have traditionally elected to matriculate elsewhere with quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Priest Willis both spurning Arizona State in favor of rival UCLA.
Cox hopes to join the ranks of local freshmen All-Americans D.J. Foster and Jaxon Hood. Hood was one of only six true freshmen in school history to start in his first opportunity and Foster played in all 13 games.
Cameron Smith: Wide Receiver
The Arizona State receiving corps lost some big names to the NFL prior to the 2012 season and after the season, two more starters have graduated, leaving several opportunities for new receivers to make an immediate impact.
The 6’0″, 185-pound Smith was Scout.com‘s 123rd-ranked wide receiver in the nation. With excellent quickness, a 4.4 time in the 40, Smith projects well to a slot receiver position in the Sun Devil offense, although he does possess the ability to play outside as well.
The Coppell, Texas, standout chose Arizona State over Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State. Coach Graham loves Smith’s speed and mentioned him over higher ranked incoming freshmen receivers Ellis Jefferson and Ronald Lewis. “He can fly,” Graham said of Smith’s remarkable speed.
Matthew Haack: Punter
Arizona State lost a great punter in Josh Hubner and he will be extremely hard to replace. Hubner leaves behind big shoes to fill including the top spot in the Sun Devil record books averaging 47.1 yards per punt.
True freshman punter Matt Haack will have his work cut out for him, but Coach Graham has the utmost faith in Haack moving forward. Haack, the 6’1″, 185-pound punter out of Dowling High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, became the first player in 12 years from Iowa to sign with Arizona State.
Like other players on this list, Haack is a true athlete. He played running back and wide receiver and has been clocked at 4.6 in the 40-yard-dash. He began punting his junior year as a rugby-style roll punter and then began to flourish.
By the time National Signing Day approached, Haack was a three-star prospect and the No. 6 punter in the country, according to Scout.com.
Coach Graham had high praise for Haack:
“We had to sign a punter and we were able to sign, I think, one of the best that I’ve seen in a long time,” said Graham. “This guy will not only punt, he can play wide receiver for us. Great athlete, he is a rugby style punter. He can punt the ball in all directions.”
Junior punter Dom Vizzare handled the punting duties in the Annual Spring Game earlier this year and will battle Haack for the position, but Haack is designated the starter and the position is his to lose.
Zane Gonzalez: Place Kicker
Arizona State’s kicking game has been bad—at best.
Starting kicker Alex Garoutte was so abysmal that he eventually lost his field goal kicking job to walk-on Jon Mora. Garoutte’s misses in the past two years have led to much heartbreak and misery in Sun Devil Nation. When Mora took over the kicking duties, he fared better than his predecessor, but that’s not saying much.
Coach Graham went out and recruited one of the best kickers in high school to hopefully put all the drama of the past years to rest. Gonzalez brings a strong and accurate leg to Tempe. As a senior at Deer Park, he connected on all 10 of his kicks, and sent 44 of his 62 kickoffs for touchbacks. His career-long field goal came from 48 yards.
ESPN’s Insider Scouting Report had positive things to say about Gonzalez, “Zane is top 5 field goal kicker in the nation. He has won many field goal competitions and has range out to 55-60 yards off the ground. His ability to focus and perform is very impressive.”
Graham is excited about Gonzalez’s ability stating “Our place kicking can not do anything (but) get better, and I think he is really good, I think he’s the real deal.”