Tag: Todd Graham

Tempe Chamber of Commerce Hosts Kickoff Luncheon

Ray Sparky

The Tempe Chamber of Commerce hosted another legendary luncheon in anticipation of the 2014 Sun Devil Football season. Frank Kush was there, Rose Bowl winning quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst was there, the 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year Todd Graham was there and so was DieHard Devil.

It was a veritable “Who’s Who” of Arizona State football at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel, just a stone’s throw away from Sun Devil Stadium. The ballroom was packed, and the Tempe Chamber of Commerce sold out the event with 520 passionate Sun Devil football fans in attendance.

“We enjoy a wonderful relationship with the University, we’re partners on many different levels” Sean Donovan, Vice President of Media and Program Development told me prior to the event. “This is one opportunity to show our support very publicly and very visibly. We are happy to celebrate the start of the new season and bring the wonderful people and passionate players of Arizona State University to the community.”

Tempe ChamberThe “Voice of the Sun Devils,” Tim Healey, hosted the ceremony and incited the room of fervent Sun Devil football fans with talk of Arizona State truly having “unfinished business.” While it is always nice to say that the Devils are the defending Pac-12 South champion, there is so much more work to be done. The Pac-12 Championship, the Rose Bowl, and, yes, even the National Championship are goals for the 2014 Sun Devil football team.

The daughter of legendary Arizona State basketball and baseball coach, Bill Kajikawa, Dr. Christine Wilkinson spoke to the crowd on behalf of the ASU Alumni Association. Dr. Wilkinson, the President of the Alumni Association, has worn several hats at the University, including interim Athletic Director, and has more knowledge about the school and its history than even the most passionate alum.

Healey’s partner for the past 20+ years, Jeff Van Raaphorst joined him to discuss where the Devils have been and where they are going, and it’s evident that the Rose Bowl is only a step along the way. Van Raaphorst admitted that current ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly has the ability to eclipse his records and has the opportunity to join him among ASU’s elite quarterbacks.

Vice President of University Athletics, Ray Anderson joined the hosts on stage to talk about playing with class. “There will be no trash talking on this team,” Anderson told the crowd. “Sun Devils will play with class, honor and integrity. This will also be evident in how they live their lives off the field as well.”

With Jamil & The Cup

With Jamil & The Cup

I was hoping to see more unorthodox footwear from head football coach Todd Graham at the event. He has worn boots to flip-flops to address the media this year, but today was just a pair of smart, black dress shoes while he spoke with Healey and Van Raaphorst.

“We have unfinished business this year,” Graham said. “Our goal is not only to return to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but also the Rose Bowl and the National Championship. While those goals may be lofty, I believe in our guys. We are faster, smarter and more physical than previous years, so that is what’s expected.”

The Territorial Cup made its appearance when Kelly and offensive lineman Jamil Douglas joined the panel. Kelly and Douglas reinforced the “unfinished business” mantra and voiced their desire to take the Pac-12 and the nation by storm.

When Healey asked Douglas “What part of the Territorial Cup victory was most difficult for you?” He responded “Hoisting the cup after the game.”

“It was more taxing holding the cup up for so long than actually winning it.” Douglas said in closing.

Let’s hope they have no problem keeping the cup for years to come.

 

Arizona State Football: Third Down and Pac-12 Championship To Go

taylor

We are less than a month away from kickoff of the 2014 season, summer workouts are complete and the team returns to Camp Tontozona is less than two weeks. Pac-12 Media Day was a resounding success and the Sun Devils were predicted to finish third in the Pac-12 South by media members that cover the league.

There’s that number again…three. It must truly be a magical number.

Keeping in the context of the magical number three, let’s examine the all-important third down. In the perfect world, we would never need third downs as Taylor Kelly and his arsenal of weapons would nail a first down, every down.

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

This is a world where the University of Arizona still has a football team and the University of Southern California was predicted to finish above the Sun Devils in a preseason poll, so this world is far from perfect.

Third downs tell the story of how the offense responds under pressure and how it deals with adversity—will they extend the possession or will they fold?

In 2013, the Sun Devils third conversion rate was less than stellar, converting only 39 percent of the time. The bright side of the coin, however, is that Taylor Kelly will still be under center this year.

Kelly led the team last year with 30 rushes on third down. Half of those crucial runs netted the necessary yardage to extend the drive while six of the runs ended up in the end zone. The entire team totaled only three third down touchdowns all season…three.

Kelly’s 7.6 yards per carry on third down led the team and his six touchdowns on third down was second best in the country. If history tells us anything, the future looks bright on third down as long as Kelly is on the field.

The top teams in the country do well in their third down conversions so it’s no mystery that extending drives leads to winning games. National Champion Florida State finished third nationally with a 52.2 percent conversion rate while Pac-12 Champion, Stanford led all teams in the conference at 49.7 percent and tenth nationally.

Lame LaneArizona State’s 39.1 percent conversion was quite pedestrian, finishing eighth in the conference and 77th nationally. Kelly has a multitude of weapons other than playmakers Jaelen Strong and D.J. Foster.

The Sun Devils lit up opponents in 2013 with a record-breaking six games of 50 or more points including a stretch of four games against Pac-12 opponents and one opposing coach fired on the tarmac.

We know that the team can score early and often, but imagine if you will, how dominant the team would be if they could convert third down conversions half of the time like Pac-12 North foe, Stanford…they would be unbeatable.

This is the year that it all comes together, and after claiming victory in the brutal four-game stretch against UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington, the nation will notice that Arizona State football is a legitimate contender for not only the Conference title but also the National Championship.

ASU Head Coach Todd Graham and His Knack for Success

graham KFH

Just two seasons into his tenure at ASU, head football coach Todd Graham has revived a program in dire need of change. In 2012, Graham led the Sun Devils to their first winning season (8-5) in five years. In 2013, his 10-2 regular season record earned him the Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

Graham instills a quiet confidence in his players and coaches and it trickles down to the fans, alumni and community. There has been a lot said about Graham’s affinity to change positions at a moment’s notice but he has said “this is a destination job” about coming to Arizona State.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

His coaching career began in the spectacle of “Friday Night Lights,” coaching for a dozen years in Texas and Oklahoma before being hired by Rich Rodriguez as linebackers coach at West Virginia University.

He would go on to lead the Tulsa Golden Hurricane defense to two bowl games in three seasons as defensive coordinator before he was offered his first head coaching gig at Rice University.

Graham’s impact was immediate at Rice, he took a one-win Owls team to their first bowl game in 45 years, finishing 7-5 and earning Conference USA Coach of the Year.

Graham accepted a significant pay increase and contract extension to stay on with Rice, but Tulsa came right back into the picture. The Golden Hurricane wanted Graham back, offering him the head coaching position. Graham returned to Tulsa in 2007.

Once again, Graham’s culture of success was nearly instantaneous at the helm of Tulsa’s football program. In his four seasons, Graham’s Golden Hurricane collected three 10-win seasons, three Conference USA West Division titles and three convincing Bowl victories.

Former Tulsa and Arizona State head coach John Cooper, who lead the Sun Devils to a Rose Bowl victory in 1987, is one who has recognized Graham’s knowledge and success.

“I don’t think I can say enough good things about Todd Graham,” Cooper told the Tulsa World. “If I was named the head coach of some school tomorrow, I would send my entire coaching staff down to Tulsa to learn a few things.”

The big payday loomed for the “Coach du jour,” and the University of Pittsburgh called the loudest. A storied program producing the likes of Dan Marino and Tony Dorsett, the Pitt Panthers would be the school where Graham would make his mark…or so he thought.

With only 24 hours to decide on whether to leave Tulsa, Graham now admits that the move was hasty and ultimately a mistake.

graham Tcup“I take responsibility for being at a place for one year and leaving,” he told Lisa Horne of Fox Sports. “I made a mistake. The mistake was I probably should have never gone to Pittsburgh in the first place.”

“I’m from the South, he explained. “[Pittsburgh] was a different cultural change for me. I did not feel comfortable.”

After a successful high school career, Graham received numerous accolades as a defensive back at East Central University even though he entered college at 5’9”, 132 pounds.

Following ECU, Graham made it as far as NFL training camp with the Arizona Cardinals whose 1987 media guide called him a “ferocious hitter,” so he is more than satisfied to call Arizona home and put down roots.

Welcome home, coach.

Stanford leads NCAA men’s golf championships after 36 holes

Stanford golf

Rain delays, threats of lightning and overall poor weather at Prairie Dunes Country Club have changed the format of the NCAA men’s golf championship in Huntington, Kan. The course, which has been suffering from one of the worst droughts in recent memory as well as one of the driest starts on record, has been anything but dry.

Due to the extreme weather conditions, the fourth round, originally scheduled for Monday, has been canceled and hopes that a full round can completed on Monday are still up in the air because the forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of scattered storms.

The No. 3 Stanford Cardinal led at the conclusion of Saturday’s suspended play. After all teams finally completed two full rounds earlier on Sunday afternoon, the Cardinal still remained on top of the leaderboard without ever stepping on the course.

The nation’s top two ranked amateurs in Patrick Rodgers and Cameron Wilson, both from Stanford, also sit atop the individual leaderboard, only juxtaposed ever so slightly with Wilson in first place at 6-under and Rodgers right behind at 5-under par.

 

california-b-logo-1The Cal Golden Bears, who were ranked No. 5 prior to the championships, excelled in the first round with a 1-under 279 but struggled in the second round finishing 9-over par. The Bears were able to start the third round prior to a final suspension due to lightning and shoot a 1-under on the day. Cal is now tied for 14th par with the Universities of Texas and Alabama-Birmingham at 7-over. Brandon Hagy is tied for 21st place at 1-under par while teammates Joel Stalter and Michael Weaver are tied for 41st at 1-over par.

 

No. 8 Washington mirrored the play of California, scoring 1-under par in the first round and struggling in the second round. The Huskies performed two strokes better than the Bears finishing 7-over in the round and 6-over par overall, good enough to be tied for 11th place. Cory Pereira led all Huskies golfers with an even par after shooting 69 in the first round and 71 in the second.

 

ucla-logo

No. 21 UCLA also shot a 1-under par 279 in the first round but fared much better in the second round despite all the delays and distractions. The Bruins finished the second round with a respectable 4-over par to give the squad a composite score of 3-over par and sole possession of eighth place. Anton Arboleda, who had a masterful 2-under 68 in the first round, finished 1-over in the second dropping him from 18th place in the individual ranking to 21stLorens Chan and Preston Valder are both a stroke behind Arboleda at even par. 

 

The 22nd-ranked Trojans had a bad first round and an even worse second round. Finishing 16-over par in the first round was tough but being unable to rebound with an 18-over second round most likely signaled the end of the tournament for USC. Their third round score of 3-over par was not the worst showing of the round and their total score of 37-over is also not the highest of all schools, that honor belongs to Texas A&M at 38-over par. Rico Hoey, the lone bright spot for the Trojans with a 2-under 68 in the first round, finished the second round at 7-over par. Hoey’s teammates are all in double digits over par.

 

oregon-g-logoOne would think that the 27th ranked Oregon Ducks would excel in the inclement and rainy conditions but it has proved to be the opposite. They represent the biggest drop from the end of day one, which had Oregon on top, to the end of day three, where we find the Ducks at 17-over par and in 23rd place out of 30 schools. The 17-over second round hit the squad hard and they have rebounded in the third round with an impressive 4-under par to keep the Ducks at 17-over for the tournament.

ASU Football: Updated Depth Chart, Spring Game and Fan Fest

ASU TheaterTEMPE, Ariz. — The 2014 Arizona State football team will kick off in earnest on Saturday, April 19 with the annual Fan Fest taking place at Sun Devil Stadium from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT with the Maroon and Gold spring game at 11 a.m. The game will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks and will also be available online via the Pac-12 Now app.

The Pac-12 South champion Sun Devils led by senior quarterback Taylor Kelly and 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year Todd Graham return to the gridiron with unfinished business after ending the 2013 season in disappointing fashion. The goals for the 2014 season, and every season moving forward, are Pac-12 Champions, Rose Bowl Champions and National Champions.

The walls of the football theater are emblazoned with these tenets.

New Athletic Director Ray Anderson has sparked interest in the football program and is spear-heading the North End Zone renovation project in a campaign entitled Momentum.

Rendering of new Sun Devil Stadium

Rendering of new Sun Devil Stadium

The proposed plan will completely renovate Sun Devil Stadium, while preserving Tillman Tunnel and retaining the stadium in its iconic setting between the Tempe and Hayden Buttes. Construction on the stadium is scheduled to begin in 2015, with the football team competing in Sun Devil Stadium throughout the renovation.

The scheduled removal of the north end zone began on Monday and is not part of the renovation project. The removal of the north end zone upper deck will reduce the seating capacity at Sun Devil Stadium by approximately 5,700 seats.

FAN FEST 2014

 

The pre-game festivities will begin at 9 a.m. at the southern end of the stadium and parking lots. Activities include an interactive Sun Devil Way Fan Fest where younger Sun Devil fans can enjoy the Kids Zone presented by the Junior Sun Devil Club and Shamrock Foods, a Social Media Command Center where fans can get their photos taken, pose with the Territorial Cup and win Sun Devil apparel, and an autograph session for fans 18 and under.

2014 FanFestFor those looking to show off their master tailgating skills, there is The Great Sun Devil Tailgate Competition which will pit the best and brightest tailgaters competing for prizes, trophies and all-important bragging rights.

All attendees of Fan Fest will have a chance to win a trip for two to the ASU vs. Washington game Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 at Husky Stadium. The giveaway includes hotel, airfare and tickets for two to the game.

BRING ON THE FOOTBALL

 

The Sun Devils return six All-Pac-12 performers, including the aforementioned Kelly, running back DJ Foster, wide receiver Jaelen Strong, tight end De’Marieya Nelson, left tackle Jamil Douglas and Lou Groza Award Semifinalist kicker Zane Gonzalez.

Along with Douglas, the starting offensive line is packed with veterans including junior center Nick Kelly, redshirt juniors Christian Westerman and Vi Teofilo at the guard slots and redshirt senior Tyler Sulka at right tackle. The veteran line will be heavily relied upon with Foster and a pair of redshirt seniors in Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks out of the backfield.

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

ASU leading receiver Jaelen Strong

The receiving corps will be quite different with Strong leading the way at the X slot. Redshirt junior Cameron Smith, who had only eight receptions for 129 yards in 2013 is the favorite at the Y position while redshirt sophomore Frederick Gammage will likely get the start at the Z. Gammage saw time in 13 games in 2013 yet only nabbed six receptions for 32 yards.

The defense is markedly changed with the departure of nine starters including two-time All Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton and Carl Bradford to graduation. The defensive line will be anchored by junior Jaxon Hood at the Tiger position with redshirt junior Mo Latu at the Nose and senior Marcus Hardison coming off the end.

Redshirt junior Eriquel Florence will be filling the Devil backer spot while redshirt sophomores Viliami Moeakiola and Salamo Fiso will most likely start at the Spur and Sam linebacker spots. Freshman DJ Calhoun and redshirt junior Antonio Longino are battling for the start at the Will position.

Marcus Hardison with big shoes to fill

Marcus Hardison with big shoes to fill

The secondary will be anchored by returning senior Damarious Randall at field safety. Redshirt sophomores Lloyd Carrington and Rashad Wadood will fill the field corner and boundary corners respectively. Battling for the the boundary safety position will be redshirt freshman Marcus Ball and redshirt junior Jordan Simone.

Special teams will be relatively unchanged with sophomore punter Matt Haack coming into his own after losing punting responsibilities last season to kickoff specialist Alex Garoutte. New assistant coach Keith Patterson, a former punter has worked with not only Haack, but also with junior long snappers Donnie Shields and Easton Wahlstrom.

The pressure of punting took Garoutte’s focus of being a true kickoff specialist and this season he will be send more footballs into the end zone, nullifying any possible returns. Sophomore kicker Zane Gonzalez is facing a concerning sophomore slump with a couple misses in practice, yet he is 7-of-10 inside Sun Devil Stadium this spring.

On the return side of the coin, speedy running back Kyle Middlebrooks and defensive leader Damarious Randall are listed as the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on both punt and kick coverage.

MOVING FORWARD

 

The spring game will bring to spring practice season to a close but there are still many other events on the horizon.

  • Early bird season ticket pricing ends April 30.
  • Spring Coaching Clinic April 4-5
  • Camp Tontozona August 12-16
  • Season Opener August 28 vs. Weber State

Arizona State Football: Sun Devils’ National Signing Day Hopefuls

Graham NSDArizona State University and head coach Todd Graham have a quality recruiting class of 25 commitments with the four major recruiting networks ranking the Sun Devils in the Top 25 nationally.

Scout ranks them the highest at No. 12 while ESPN and Rivals ranks them at No. 17. 247 Sports has them ranked at No. 4 in the conference and No. 22 overall.

What’s left for the Sun Devils moving into the National Signing Day on Wednesday? Here is a list of hopefuls still on Coach Graham’s radar.

Kalen BallageKalen Ballage

  • Position: Athlete
  • Height 6′ 2″
  • Weight: 215
  • Hometown: Peyton, Colo.
  • Rankings247Sports – 4-star, Scout – 4-star

The running back out of Falcon High School gave a “soft” commit to Arizona State’s Chip Long back in December but has since made official visits to Nebraska and Washington. Ballage also made his official visit to Arizona State on January 17 and Washington on January 24.

Ballage will blend perfectly in Arizona State’s backfield as he scored 25 rushing touchdowns as well as six receiving. Past running backs Marion Grice and D. J. Foster both excel in both rushing and receiving touchdowns so it looks as if Ballage will fit in nicely—if he signs on Wednesday.

Kenyon Frison

  • Kenyon FrisonPosition: Offensive Tackle
  • Height 6′ 5 1/2″
  • Weight: 290
  • Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Rankings247Sports – 4-star, Scout – 4-star

The big lineman out of Granger High School visited Arizona State on January 17 but also visited Nebraska on January 24. Frison has warm or medium interest level in ASU, Nebraska and Oklahoma whom he visited last November. The Sooners are pushing hard for Frison and have visited him five times since his official visit.

The hope that Arizona State has for Frison is that he officially de-committed from Utah after his visit to Arizona State.

Kweishi Brown 1Kweishi Brown

  • Position: Cornerback
  • Height 6′ 1″
  • Weight: 185
  • Hometown: El Cajon, Calif.
  • Rankings247Sports – 3-star, Scout – 3-star

The Grossmont Junior College standout who committed to Arkansas last summer and de-commited in November has been busy. Brown has 10 offers on the table but he has only made official visits to Nebraska and Arizona State.

Charlton Warren from Nebraska visited with Brown the day before his official visit but it may have been for naught as Brown raved about his official visit to Arizona State.

It’s no secret that the Sun Devils are looking to replace nearly the entire defense, losing nine starters to graduation and the NFL, so Brown will get a big chance to make his mark with three years to play two.

Deondre Clark

  • Deondre ClarkPosition: Defensive End
  • Height 6′ 3″
  • Weight: 235
  • Hometown: Oklahoma City, Okla.
  • Rankings247Sports – 4-star, Scout – 4-star

The soft commit for the LSU Tigers out of Douglass High School would be an incredible get for Arizona State following the departure of nine defensive starters.

Clark used the last three weeks of January to make official visits to Oklahoma, LSU and saved his final visit for Arizona State on January 31.

Depending on which recruiting site you follow, you will get varied reports on Clark. Scout has Clark down to four schools including Ole Miss, Rivals has ASU and OU listed as low interest and 24/7 Sports has OU listed as “warm” and Oklahoma State as “cool.”

Dalvon Stuckey & Darrius Caldwell

Dalvon StuckeyDalvon Stuckey

  • Position: Defensive Tackle
  • Height 6′ 3″
  • Weight: 300
  • Hometown: DeFuniak Springs, Fla.
  • Rankings247Sports – 3-star, Scout – 3-star

Darrius Caldwell

  • Position: Defensive End
  • Height 6′ 5″
  • Weight: 255
  • Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.
  • Rankings247Sports – 4-star, Scout – 3-star

The Pearl River Community College teammates visited Arizona State on January 31 and both would be huge commitments for a depleted line with Stuckey having the same size and stature of departed 2-time Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year, Will Sutton.

Stuckey has been hugely indecisive in deciding his college football career. He originally signed with Florida State in 2012 prior to attending Pearl River in Poplarville, Mississippi. Stuckey committed to Miami last April but took an unofficial visit to Auburn and switched his commitment to Auburn. Prior to Stuckey’s official visit to Tempe, he de-committed from Auburn, so Stuckey’s future as a Sun Devil is questionable at best.

Caldwell, like Stuckey signed with a Division I school (Illinois) prior to attending Pearl River. Caldwell is a soft commit to South Carolina but could follow teammate Stuckey to Arizona State.

Ka’Deem Carey and Carl Bradford Bid Farewell To Arizona

Bradford

The opening to A Tale of Cities, Charles Dickens’ epic novel novel written about London and Paris, might very well describe the college football landscape of Arizona:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Rarely does one compare Dickens to college football, but in this case, it holds true. Both of the state’s college football programs, on the brink of reaching their highest level, will wake up tomorrow with the knowledge that a high-profile and highly productive player will be gone—a blow that could send both programs “back to whence they came.”

The University of Arizona’s running back Ka’Deem Carey and Arizona State University’s linebacker Carl Bradford both had a year of eligibility remaining at their respective schools and both declared for the NFL draft on Monday.

Ka’Deem the Dream

NCAA Football: Arizona at Arizona State

Ka’Deem Carey spent only two years at the University of Arizona and is the school’s all-time career rushing leader with 4,232 yards. He ranks seventh all time in Pac-12 history and holds the conference record for most rushing yards in a game with 366 yards against Colorado in 2012.

Carey’s 16-game streak of 100-yard rushing games also tops the Pac-12 record books and is the longest such streak in all of college football over the past decade. He led the FBS in 2012 with 148.4 rushing yards per game, finishing with 1,929 total yards.

As reported by ESPN, Carey noted his appreciation of his tenure at Arizona:

“I’m excited for the next phase of my career and to enter the NFL Draft,” Carey said. “I want to thank God, my family, Coach Rodriguez, Coach Magee and all of my coaches for everything they’ve done for me. My time playing football for Arizona will always be very special to me and I want to thank the fans and the Tucson community for supporting me throughout my career. ”

Carey was a two-time consensus All-American, a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection and the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year for 2013. He was considered a finalist for the Heisman Trophy by many experts but was left off the list of invitees to the annual event in New York City. He was, however, named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award but finished behind Boston College’s Andre Williams in the voting on December 12.

“Ka’Deem Carey was a great player for us,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We wish him all the best as he pursues his professional career.”

Carey is projected to be drafted late in the first round but could still be on the board come the second round.

 A “Devil” of a Linebacker

Arizona v Arizona StateArizona State’s hybrid linebacker position called the “Devil” backer seemed custom-made for Carl Bradford.

The redshirt junior out of Norco, Calif. decided to forego his senior season and sign with NFL agents Dave Dunn and Justin Schulman of Athletes First according to Liz Mullen of Sports Business Journal hours before the school had given an official statement.

Bradford had a stellar season in 2012 with 11.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss. His 2013 resume sported 61 total tackles, including a team-high 19 for a loss of 107 yards. His 8.5 sacks were tied for the team lead with Davon Coleman. Bradford also led the team with five quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles.

Bradford issued this statement on Monday:

After four great years on the campus of Arizona State University, I have decided to pursue my dream of playing in the National Football League. I have many wonderful memories of my time here, and I will miss playing in front of the terrific Sun Devil fans. Although I will not be on the field in maroon and gold next season, I am excited to cheer on the Sun Devils with all of you. I am honored to be a graduate of ASU and I look forward to supporting the university as a proud alumnus.

Bradford was an integral part of an Arizona State defense that ranked near the top in many FBS statistical categories including most interceptions returned for touchdowns (tied with three others), No. 3 for most interceptions and sixth in interception yards and sacks.

With the graduation of defensive standouts Will Sutton, Chris Young, Alden Darby and Osahon Irabor, Bradford made the right choice by declaring this year as the defense will have plenty of growing pains in the 2014 season.

“It was an honor and a privilege to coach Carl Bradford at Arizona State University. Carl leaves ASU with his degree and that is what we are most proud of,” Coach Todd Graham said in a statement on Monday. “We appreciate Carl for being a great Sun Devil and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”

According to Ryan Bafaloukos of House of Sparky:

“Bradford is projected to go as high as the second round by some draft analysts who believe the Arizona State product has tremendous upside as an edge pass rusher at the next level.”

What Lies Ahead?

NCAA Football: Oregon at ArizonaAnd so it begins. Which team will have a tougher time rebuilding? Arizona without Carey or Arizona State without nine defensive starters including Bradford?

The future is yet to be seen but judging from Rivals.com‘s ranking of 2014 draft classes, Arizona State ranks second in the conference and Arizona ranks fourth. The teams rank No. 19 and 23 respectively nationally. Scout.com tells another story altogether ranking the Sun Devils and Wildcats as the top two teams in the conference and No. 11 and 15 nationally.

It’s no secret that both teams will be rebuilding in 2014, but with veteran coaches in Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham, the down time will minimal.

One thing that will always remain the same is that each team circles one date on the calendar every year, the annual meeting for the Territorial Cup. This year it returns to its traditional day after Thanksgiving slot and the University of Arizona will host.

It will be interesting to see where Carey, Bradford and Sutton end up, hopefully not on the same team, that would truly be Dickensian.

3 Games That Will Define the Future of the Sun Devil Program

Go Devils

The Arizona State Sun Devils were once again invited to the college football “adult table,” and this time they didn’t embarrass themselves. I guess the third time really is the charm.

The Sun Devils’ two prior trips under the national spotlight ended up in losses to Stanford and Notre Dame, and it looked as if they might continue that trend late in the game in the Rose Bowl Saturday night.

No. 17 Arizona State (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) traveled to Pasadena and defeated No. 17 UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) 38-33 on the back of a strong offensive showing in the first half and a consistent defensive presence throughout the game.

What lies ahead for the Sun Devils is destiny.

With the upset of the Oregon Ducks at the hands of their rival Arizona Wildcats, the Sun Devils now have the rare opportunity to not only exact revenge on the team that handed them their lone conference loss, but also against a team that spoiled their perfect season in the Rose Bowl 17 years ago.

November 30: Arizona Wildcats

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

One cup to rule them all.

The Territorial Cup is certified as college football’s oldest trophy awarded to Tempe Normal School on November 30, 1899. Now 114 years later, to the day, the teams will meet once again for the honor of the Cup.

After the initial victory for the “Normals,” the University of Arizona would dominate the series in the early years. The teams played sporadically until 1946, when it became an annual match. Arizona leads the series 47-38-1 on the backs of a 20-2 start to the series. Arizona was so dominant in the early years, it won by shutout in 12 of the first 22 meetings.

Arizona State would improve and later make the rivalry one-sided on its behalf, winning nine straight and 16 of 19 from 1963-1981. The rivalry then shifted back to Arizona as the Sun Devils would go winless for nine straight seasons including the Cup’s only tie in 1987.

Over the past two decades, the series is dead even with each team winning 10 games apiece, but the real story is that the home team is 8-12 in those matchups and only 4-9 in this century.

The Arizona Wildcats (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) are looking to play spoiler once again riding the momentum of the upset of No. 5 Oregon Ducks. If the Sun Devils defeat the Wildcats at home, they will host the Pac-12 Championship Game in Tempe where they haven’t lost a game since October 27—of last year.

Prediction: Arizona 31, Arizona State 42

December 7: Pac-12 Championship Game

Arizona State v Stanford

The No. 9 Stanford Cardinal (9-2, 7-2 Pac-12) have shown flashes of brilliance this year with two wins over top-10 ranked teams. They have also shown signs of weakness with two losses to unranked teams on the road.

The Cardinal embarrassed Arizona State in Week 4 of the regular season, taking a 29-0 halftime lead at “The Farm.” The Sun Devils would eventually wake up and score 21 points in the fourth quarter, but it would be too little, too late for Coach Graham’s Arizona State squad as they lost 42-28.

The lone blemish on Arizona State’s conference record stings, but that is an issue that will have to be addressed after the huge game against Arizona.

If the Sun Devils can prevail over Arizona, they will host their first ever Pac-12 Championship Game and welcome Stanford into their house, a daunting task for any team, but for a Stanford team that has lost two of their past three road games, it will be a near impossibility.

Prediction: Stanford 24, Arizona State 31

January 1: The Rose Bowl

The Granddaddy of Them All.

This is it, sports fans, what every Sun Devil football player dreams of. The ultimate goal, the pinnacle of perfection, the promised land.

NCAA Football: Colorado at UCLA

As of this writing, it is safe to say that No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida State will be facing in the National Championship Game, at the Rose Bowl on January 6. Barring any setbacks against the Michigan schools in the next two weeks, the Ohio State Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) will return to Pasadena for their 15th Rose Bowl appearance.

The Sun Devils have considerably less experience in playing on New Year’s Day, sporting a 1-1 Rose Bowl record. That one loss is what is stuck in the craw of so many Sun Devil fans, players and coaches.

The 1996 Sun Devils (11-0) led by Jake Plummer and a defense anchored by Pat Tillman were the consensus No. 2 ranked team in the country and a victory in the Rose Bowl would secure the schools’ first National Championship due to No. 3 Florida defeating No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. The only thing in their way was the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-1).

The Sun Devils trailed 14-10 heading into the fourth quarter and stepped up big time by blocking a Buckeye field goal attempt in the final five minutes. Jake Plummer once again worked his late-game magic by scrambling 11 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

The Buckeyes’ final drive of the game led by Joe Germaine will forever be tainted in Sun Devil faithful minds by the two pass interference calls that led to the fateful pass to David Boston with 19 seconds left in the game. The Buckeyes’ 20-17 victory would dash the hopes and dreams of everybody in the Sun Devil family and Arizona State would return to mediocrity.

Could this game happen? Can the Sun Devils finally even the score with the Buckeyes and lay the 17-year-old loss to rest? Although it won’t be for a national championship, a Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State will forever change the course of this football program, elevating the team into the elite of college football.

Things We Learned About Sun Devils in Loss to Notre Dame

Notre Dame v Arizona StateThe invitations were sent, the stage was set for the Arizona State’s football team to join the upper echelon of college football teams. However, much like the bespectacled, acne-ridden teenager at the big dance, the Sun Devils fumbled and stumbled once again and is now hanging in the corner of the gymnasium eschewing any further big opportunities.

Back in their comfort zone of mediocrity, Coach Todd Graham will play the role of the cool kid that befriends the nerd in an attempt to raise their confidence. Unfortunately, the Sun Devils will most likely return to being the fringe team that is happy winning lower-level bowls in cities like San Antonio, El Paso and San Francisco.

Two marquee matchups on national networks—two losses. Thankfully, for the Sun Devils, the schedules lightens up a little over the next six weeks. They will dance with a couple dogs to help build up their confidence for their next big matchup against conference rival, UCLA on Nov. 23.

Here is a list of things we learned from the loss against Notre Dame and what they will need to make a splash in the media and in the national rankings.

Turnovers Kill

pick6After holding Notre Dame to a field goal after a 10-play, 56-yard yard drive that took over five minutes off the clock, there was a confident optimism on the Sun Devil sidelines. Trailing by three with 3:03 remaining in the game, the old Schoolhouse Rock song “Three is a Magic Number” was resonating in several Arizona State fans’ heads.

Then came one of quarterback Taylor Kelly’s worst drives of the game. A four-play drive that consisted of a sack, an incomplete pass and an interception. Kelly’s record as a starter is 2-6 when he throws an interception, but the two wins were this year, so maybe the tide has changed.

The defense stood up once again causing a three-and-out registering negative yardage.

Then came the punt.

Kelly and the Arizona State offense was starting at their own one-yard line and with 1:16 left and 99-yards to go to take the lead, Kelly threw another interception, this one was easily returned for a Notre Dame touchdown.

Two costly interceptions in the final minutes of the game prove that this team cracked under the pressure.

Will Sutton Is Not 100 Percent

With all the issues that South Carolina’s Jadaveon Clowney is having this season, it would stand to reason that Will Sutton would step up and fill the void of the league’s dominant defensive end.

suttThat hasn’t been the case.

Sutton only tallied three tackles against Notre Dame, two of them solo in an otherwise uninspired performance. His 16 tackles through five games are disappointing as he had twice that number through the first five games of the 2012 campaign. He was also a fixture in the opponents’ backfield last year with six-and-a-half sacks, through five games this year, he has one.

His two tackles-for-loss also pale in comparison to the 10 that he had achieved at this point last season,

Is it bad weight or that he is unmotivated?

He has seven games remaining, including four at home to improve on his draft stock because as it stands right now, he is looking to take a big tumble.

ASU Just Not Ready for Prime Time

As an avid fan and alumnus from Arizona State, I have watched this football team through the ages. I have experienced the exhilaration and sheer joy from the 19-0 defeat of Nebraska to the the dismantling of Ryan Leaf’s unstoppable Washington St. Cougars. I have also dealt with defeat—coming from the biggest loss in program history in the “Granddaddy of Them All” in Pasadena against Ohio State to a heartbreaking loss to Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and the USC Trojans in front of  the College GameDay crew when the Devils led 21-0 at halftime.

There have been so many ups and downs that I keep a neck brace at the ready because one never knows when this train will veer suddenly off course…and then right itself just as suddenly.

jahii 2013It would be one thing, if the Sun Devils were consistently bad—they’re not. If they were, like a certain team down south,  I would know not to get all worked up for a big game broadcast live in front of God and country. I would simply do what they do in Tucson…wait for basketball season.

How about that Jahii Carson?

 

 

Power Ranking the Sun Devils’ 5 Best NFL Prospects

asu nflThe sleeping giants of the Pac-12 woke up last weekend in Tempe, Ariz.

The Arizona State football team’s vaunted defense gave way to Coach Todd Graham’s high-octane offense. The defense was no slouch either—it registered nine tackles for loss, four sacks, a forced fumble and recovery, and three interceptions including a 46-yard pick-six from Alden Darby.

The not-good-enough-for-Sunday players lit the gridiron ablaze and forced everybody to take notice of a team that single-handedly dismantled an elite football program and destroyed a coach’s career in one fell swoop.

After such an outing, will there be Heisman talk for the studs on the Sun Devils sidelines?

No, but fret not, gentle reader. This football program thrives on being the underdog and going unnoticed by the media. Due to the extreme temperatures in the desert city of Tempe, Ariz., the Sun Devils rarely, if ever, play a home game before bedtime on the East Coast.

In the 2013 NFL draft, a record zero players were drafted, and although many were invited to training camp, only Brandon Magee was signed to an active NFL roster, signing with the Cleveland Browns.

Here are the power rankings of the Sun Devils’ best NFL prospects after the first month of the 2013 season.

Will Sutton: Defensive Tackle

Wisconsin v Arizona StateThe 2012 Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American is still the Sun Devils’ most NFL-ready player despite reports of sluggishness and adding “bad weight.”

The 6’1″, 305-pound redshirt senior out of Corona, Calif., is out to prove his doubters wrong. Through four games, he has 13 tackles, nine of them solo and 2.5 for a loss of 10 yards. He also had a sack and a fumble recovery last weekend against USC.

It is safe to say that Sutton is just getting warmed up to dominate the Irish this weekend before going on to repeat his stellar junior season.

Draft Projection: Round 2

Marion Grice: Running Back

USC v Arizona StateMarion Grice has moved up this list—quickly.

Grice, one of the nation’s best junior college running backs out of Blinn Community College in Houston, Texas, committed to coach Todd Graham and the Sun Devils and became a cornerstone of Graham’s “left lane, hammer down” offense.

He led all running backs with receiving touchdowns at the end of last season. In 2013, he not only leads all running backs with receiving touchdowns but leads all players with 12 total touchdowns, and that even includes a bye week.

Grice is the prototypical player in Graham’s offense and is breaking out of the three-headed running back committee that thrived last season. In his last seven games, Grice has scored an astounding 18 touchdowns, 13 rushing and five receiving.

In 2013, he is only averaging 3.9 yards per carry and 64 yards per game, but what is the most amazing statistic is that he scores a touchdown every 7.3 times he touches the ball.

Draft Projection: Round 3 (unless he maintains his three touchdowns per game average, in which he could go as high as the first round).

Alden Darby: Safety

Alden Darby loves playing USC.

He added his seventh and eighth career interceptions to his resume last weekend along with another pick-six; his last one was against USC last year.

Darby, a Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist was named the Player of the Week after his seven tackles, forced fumble and recovery to go along with with two interceptions.

 

 

The 5’11”, 195-pound senior out of Long Beach, Calif., is undersized, but his heart, desire and drive are not. This year, he leads the team in interceptions, pass breakups and passes defended while his 19 tackles, 13 solo, are third-best on the team.

Draft Projection: Round 6 or 7

Taylor Kelly: Quarterback

USC v Arizona StateRedshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly out of Eagle, Idaho, is having a breakout season in just four games in 2013. He caught fire last year after losing at USC last November and hasn’t cooled off yet.

Since that chilly November day at the Coliseum, in his past seven games, Kelly has thrown 19 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. He has averaged 296.4 yards per game over that span, completing 65.3 percent of his passes and flaunting a 159.92 quarterback rating.

This season, Kelly has thrown for 300-plus yards in every game, and his 11 passing touchdowns are tied for 11th in the FBS while his 1,370 total yards rank him at No. 8. He leads the No. 7-ranked passing offense, averaging 358.8 yards per game and the 12th-ranked overall offense averaging 44.3 points per game.

Oddly enough, last season, when Kelly threw an interception, a loss was guaranteed. However, this year, the Devils have only lost when Kelly has thrown two picks—on the road against No. 5 Stanford.

I highly doubt that Kelly will forego his final season at Arizona State unless he blows the doors off the competition from here on out.

Draft Projection (2014): Round 5 or 6

Draft Projection (2015): Round 2 or 3

Carl Bradford: Linebacker

Wisconsin v Arizona StateCarl Bradford, the 6’1″, 243-pound redshirt junior out of Norco, Calif., is having a devil of a season. Playing out of the “Devilbacker” position, Bradford and his crazy hair are getting noticed.

Bradford’s 2012 campaign was All-America-worthy with 81 tackles, including 20.5 for loss. That number alone broke the top 10 in school history. He tallied 11 sacks, three forced fumbles, two recoveries and even tacked on an interception.

Much like his counterpart, Will Sutton, Bradford started slow but is now in complete beast mode. He leads the team in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries. His 14 solo tackles also place him at No. 3 on the team.

Bradford is yet another player who will only get better, not only through the remainder of this season, but also as team captain next year when Sutton is gone.

Draft Projection (2014): Round 6 or 7

Draft Projection (2015): Round 4 or 5