Newcomer to watch: The Sun Devils need receiver Jaelen Strong to live up to his recruiting hype. So far, so good in preseason camp. Despite getting a late start while he was waiting to be academically cleared, he's been running with the first-team offense and has flashed playmaking potential. Receiver is the biggest question for the Sun Devils, and Strong is the most obvious -- and promising -- answer.
Biggest games in 2013: The South Division looks -- in the preseason -- like a three-team race between the Sun Devils, USC and UCLA. The Sun Devils play host to USC on Sept. 28 and visit the Bruins on Nov. 23. Meanwhile, there are big nonconference games with Wisconsin (Sept. 14) and Notre Dame (Oct. 5, in Cowboys Stadium).
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Top 2012 receiver Rashad Ross is gone, and the Sun Devils got little production from the position in 2012 in any event. While Grice and Foster are good receivers out of the backfield, and Coyle is a productive tight end, the missing ingredient for this offense is a wideout who can stretch the field. If there's one on the roster at present -- Strong? -- it's almost certain he will be a first-year player.
Forecast: Arizona State welcomes back 17 starters, including quarterback Taylor Kelly, from a team that exceeded expectations in 2012. If the Sun Devils take a step forward with that experience, they should be in the thick of the Pac-12 South Division race.
It starts with Kelly on offense and DT Will Sutton on defense. Kelly was probably the biggest surprise of the 2012 season, coming from nowhere to finish third in the conference in passing efficiency. Sutton only won conference Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American honors. But they are hardly alone.
Grice and Foster might be the best one-two running punch in the conference, and the depth behind them is good. Coyle is a legit weapon in the passing game, and the offensive line looks to be the school's best unit in years. On defense, productive linebacker Carl Bradford is a strong No. 2 to Sutton, and safety Alden Darby is the undisputed team leader.
In other words, the pieces are here. And missing Oregon is probably a good thing, particularly with UCLA playing both Oregon and Stanford.
But the schedule overall is rugged, particularly a nonconference slate that includes Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Finding eight wins this year will be more difficult than last year.
Still, there are plenty of reasons for high hopes in Tempe in Year 2 under Graham.