2013 record: 10-4 overall, 8-1 in Pac-12 (1st in South division)
2013 postseason: Holiday Bowl vs. Texas Tech, (37-23 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 21/No. 20
Head coach: Todd Graham (67-38 overall; 18-9 in two years at Arizona State)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Norvell (3rd year at Arizona State)
2013 offensive rankings: 40th rushing offense (191.4 ypg); 32nd passing offense (265.9 ypg); 32nd total offense (457.3 ypg); 10th scoring offense (39.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Co-defensive coordinators: Keith Patterson (1st year) and Chris Ball (3rd year)
2013 defensive rankings: 26th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 71st passing defense (234.7 ypg); 42nd total defense (372.4 ypg); tied for 63rd in scoring defense (26.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: two
Location: Tempe, Arizona
Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium (71,706; grass)
Last conference title: 2007
When the game is on the line, it’s always beneficial to have one of the best players in the country at his position on the field and ready to make a play. Arizona State has one of those players in wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Strong, who is an early candidate to be a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, led the team last season with 1,122 receiving yards, which also makes him the leading-returning receiver in the Pac-12. At 6-3 and 212 pounds with some of the strongest hands in the nation, Strong is nearly impossible to cover. Opposing defenses will have to build their gameplans around stopping Strong. Once they do, senior quarterback Taylor Kelly can start to exploit mismatches elsewhere on the field. And Strong’s presence will open up the field for junior running back D.J. Foster, who finished third on the team in rushing yards and second with 63 receptions. Defenses will have to pick their poison when they scheme against the Sun Devils’ up-tempo offense.
The team’s front seven was obliterated by graduation. Gone are two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, disruptive defensive end Carl Bradford, fellow pass rusher Gannon Conway, productive defensive lineman Devon Coleman and linebacker Chris Young, the team’s leading tackler. Those four players combined to make 317 tackles, 24 sacks and 72 tackles for loss. The onus will now fall on junior defensive tackle Jaxon Hood. Hood is one of two returning starters on defense and the only one in the front seven. Defensive lineman Marcus Hardison will also be expected to step up and produce after playing in 13 games last year. The linebackers, meanwhile, will be led by Salamon Fiso, who played in 14 games last season and finished third on the team with 71 tackles.
If Arizona State plans on remaining one of the most aggressive defenses in the country, Graham will need help rebuilding the unit and devising game plans. Help is coming from Patterson, who was named the team’s new co-defensive coordinator in the offseason. Patterson will become Graham’s sounding board this season. Patterson wants to be the x-factor that helps an inexperienced defense gel this season.
“(I just want) to be the bond that pulls it all together,” Patterson told the Arizona Republic. “I look at that defensive staff, and that’s what has me excited, working with the caliber of coaches that we have here. I just want to slide into my role and try to add another perspective on things and hopefully be able to be a positive asset.”
MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Stanford
If the Sun Devils are going to get over the hump in the Pac-12, they need to get past the Stanford Cardinal. Last season, the Sun Devils lost to the Cardinal twice by a combined score of 80-42. One of those losses came in the Pac-12 Championship Game and cost Arizona State an appearance in the Rose Bowl. This year’s meeting takes place Oct. 18 at Sun Devil Stadium, and it comes at the end of a brutal three-game stretch for Arizona State. Prior to Stanford, the Sun Devils face UCLA and USC. How Arizona State performs against Stanford at the end of the team’s toughest part of the schedule will determine expectations for the second half of Pac-12 play.
HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Taylor Kelly
The Pac-12 is littered with talented quarterbacks. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is considered a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this season. UCLA’s Brett Hundley is projected to be a top pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion is the nation’s leading returning passer. Yet, Kelly has been as productive and efficient as any quarterback in the Pac-12 the past two years. Since becoming the team’s starter in 2012, Kelly has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 6.674 yards, 57 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Kelly is also a viable dual-threat quarterback. He’s rushed for over 500 yards each of the past two seasons. Another improbable run to the Pac-12 Championship Game could easily place Kelly in Heisman contention.
(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)
Washington wide receiver Isaiah Renfro is leaving the program after missing spring football to deal with some personal issues. Renfro announced on Sunday, via Twitter, he took time in the spring to receive treatment for a battle with depression. The true freshman explained he lost his passion for the game of football in the process and says he is stepping away from the sport and will not attend Washington.
“This year has to be one of the toughest times I’ve had to endure in my life,” Renfro explained in a lengthy Twitter post. “While going through this year I have struggled with and have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Everyday [sic] it’s very hard for me to just do a simple thing like get myself out of bed in the morning. This entire year I pushed through and gave it my all, till I had none left. I hate failure so I felt like I’d be cheating myself by quitting. But I started to see myself changing… I wasn’t the same, I lost love for the game I’ve been playing ever since I could walk, and it seemed more like a job to me than fun.”
Renfro was a three-star recruit out of California in the Class of 2015 according to Rivals, which was the first class under a full recruiting cycle for Washington head coach since being hired away by Boise State. He appeared in all 13 games played by Washington last season, in which he caught 13 passes for 178 yards.
(Reprinted and reposted with permission for a seventh straight year from, well, me.)
You have to admit that, despite the financial woes and political in-fighting and every other really crappy thing going on, we have a pretty damn good life, living in these United States of America. It’s a far-from-perfect country, but, dammit, it’s ours. Ours because our own have and will continue to shed their blood in the ultimate sacrifice. Gave and will continue to give their lives, their hopes, their dreams so that we — and our children and our children’s children and their children — may live and realize ours and theirs.
As you go about your day today, doing whatever it is that you do on Memorial Day, take a second or two or sixty — or more — to reflect on what exactly this day is all about.
Please. Just take a moment. Take a moment to God bless those who have given so much.
God bless those who have paid the ultimate price for the freedom we enjoy day-in and day-out.
God bless those hundreds of thousands who’ve lost fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters in the ultimate sacrifice paid forward to every single one of us, for our freedoms.
And thank you — thank you, thank you, thank you with every fiber of my being — to those who continue serving this country and keeping this great nation safe.
And, again, God bless families torn apart and made lesser by the heartbreaking losses, hellish and unthinkable holes in the soul that allow us to do whatever the hell it is we want to on this day and every other day of the year…
The Florida Gators play Florida State every year, and that appears to be the only school from the ACC Florida will continue to play annually. Sorry, Miami.
Florida Athletics Director Jeremy Foley was a guest on WRUF in Gainesville, where he was on to discuss a number of various Florida sports topics. Among them, of course, was a question about the future of the Florida-Miami series, if you can even call it a series these days. Foley did not leave much room for the possibility of a long-term series with the Hurricanes.
“No, I do not see them on our schedule on a regular basis,” Foley said. “I think when you’re asking your football team to play eight games in this league and Florida State? That’s a tough slate. This league is obviously as good as it gets, and Florida State is as good as it gets.”
SEC schools are locked to an eight-game conference schedule and must schedule one opponent from another power conference each year. The ACC has a similar rule, and Florida and Florida State each meet their respective conferences’ scheduling rules with their annual series at the end of the regular season. Miami has no such power conference rival to work with, so the Hurricanes are forced to look elsewhere to satisfy their scheduling requirements.
Florida and Miami are scheduled to open the 2019 season against each other in Orlando, but that is the only game in the foreseeable future for a pair of power conference programs that once played on an annual basis until 1987. Since 1987, Florida and Miami have played just six games, including a pair of postseason bowl games.
Helmet sticker to Gridiron Now.
Here’s hoping Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff are getting plenty of rest and relaxation this Memorial Day weekend, because the next month is going to be very busy for them. With the start of June just days away, Michigan’s month-long tour of satellite camps is about to begin with 38 stops over 21 states and two countries.
And yes, this is going to cost Michigan a few pennies, but it will be a small price to pay in the long run if it means Michigan will build the kind of dominant program they expected when they hired Harbaugh for the kind of money they did. Michigan already spent $350,000 for the spring break spring football trip to IMG Academy, and now that the trip to Australia is back on for Michigan, the cost will continue to soar. The Detroit Free Press mapped it all out and suggested the satellite camp tour will cover roughly 50,000 miles between stops in the United States, Australia and American Samoa. Of course, not even Harbaugh is making every stop on that tour. For example, he will not be heading to Australia, while a pair of assistants will.
Harbaugh and company will be spanning the nation to work at camps in Connecticut, New Jersey, Alabama, Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and many more. Among the programs Michigan coaches will work alongside include Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Baylor is also hosting one of the camps Michigan will be represented. In March, now former Baylor head coach Art Briles was the guest keynote speaker at a coaching clinic hosted by Harbaugh and his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.
One thing we do suspect is this. Wherever Harbaugh goes will generate buzz and draw interest. It could be a very fun month.