Arizona State's BCS shot
Let's get right into this week's mailbag:
From @huskyraven: The Arizona State Sun Devils are the chic pick in the Pac-10, yet they have never achieved anything and usually fall apart after their first loss. You buying them?
A little, but not to the degree that I know some people close to the ASU program are. They're expecting an 11-win season; I don't expect more than nine wins. The Sun Devils came into the spring with 18 starters back (although that number has since been diminished because of injury). They still have a lot of talent, especially on defense. But a big problem for the team in recent years has been its focus and inability to avoid mental mistakes and be disciplined. The Sun Devils ranked 114th in penalties per game in 2010.
Losing senior cornerback Omar Bolden to a major knee injury is also a significant blow. He's not only one of the Pac-10's better corners but also was a leader in the locker room. That presence, especially for a team that has been plagued with focus issues, will be tough to replace. I have heard good things about young Devan Spann, who is trying to take over Bolden's old spot, but he's still only a redshirt freshman. They need Deveron Carr (out with an ailing shoulder) to step up.
Obviously, the biggest question for ASU is whether Brock Osweiler can build off last season's strong finish. The confidence is certainly there, but can he perform consistently and make good decisions? I expect him to play well, but he's playing in a league loaded with outstanding quarterbacks.
As for the discipline on D: I know how we've heard about how much star linebacker Vontaze Burfict has matured and about how he's shed weight and is in great condition, but I'm still skeptical that this group can go from not making a bowl to being a BCS bowl team. The Sun Devils have two toss-up nonconference games, with the Missouri Tigers coming to ASU and then playing on the road against the Illinois Fighting Illini. I could see them winning both and opening 3-0 before they get to the meat of their league schedule (USC Trojans, Oregon State Beavers, at Utah Utes, at Oregon Ducks). I'd be very surprised if they can be better than 5-2 by that point. I think 4-3 may be more realistic.
To read the rest of Bruce Feldman's mailbag, including questions on the nation's best receiving corps, the SEC's impact freshman and Michigan's chances under Brady Hoke, become an ESPN Insider today.