Arizona State 2003 Football Outlook
Aug. 14, 2003
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS
Overview: Picked to finish ninth in the Pac-10 in the pre-season polls last year, Arizona State surprised some with a third-place finish and a berth in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. The final record was 8-6, deceiving in itself as three of the losses were to Top 10 teams away from home. The Sun Devils are not likely to sneak up on anybody this year. With coach Dirk Koetter's high-powered passing game fueled by one of the nation's top returning quarterbacks, ASU has been listed in most of the national pre-season rankings. And with the most returning starters of any team in the league (17), the Devils seem set up nicely for a run at the Pac-10 title.
Offense: Arizona State has averaged 33 points a game in coach Dirk Koetter's first two years at Tempe, and the pace should not slow down a bit in '03. The Sun Devils' offense is in the capable hands of rocket-armed quarterback Andrew Walter, who is likely to contend for national honors this year. Walter burst onto the scene last year by passing for a school-record 3,877 yards (including a Pac-10 single-game record 536 yards at Oregon) and 28 TDs, despite not taking over as the starter until the fifth game of the season. He will have help in the backfield with TBs Mike Williams, an All-Academic selection last year, and Cornell Canidate returning. They both rushed for more than 480 yards and had seven rushing TDs apiece in sharing duties last year. Also returning is 257-pound tough guy Mike Karney for his third season as a starter at fullback. Wide receiver is an area where players will need to step up to help fill the void of All-Pac-10 wideout Shaun McDonald's early departure for the NFL. Skyler Fulton, Daryl Lightfoot and Derek Hagen all have experience. Lee Burghgraef and Frank Maddox will vie for the starting tight end job. All five starters, in fact, all 10 from the two-deep, return along what should be a top-flight offensive line. And while all five starters return, ASU will likely do some shuffling with the personnel. Left tackle Regis Crawford is slated to move back to his old guard position. The trio of Drew Hodgdon, Tim Fa'aita and Tony Aguilar would man the other guard and the center spots. Chaz White, who earned some Freshman All-America mention last year, would switch from right to left tackle, although he will have to hold off impressive redshirt freshman Andrew Carnahan. Grayling Love will likely get first look at the remaining tackle slot. Lots of depth and versatility in this unit.
Defense: All-America defensive end Terrell Suggs, the Lombardi and Nagurski Awards winner, departed early for the NFL. He had an NCAA record 24 QB sacks last year, was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner, and is pretty much irreplaceable. However, seven starters return to a defensive unit that was young and fast last year. It's more experienced than young now and still has plenty of speed. The three starters along the defensive line other than Suggs return in the persons of end Jimmy Verdon and tackles Brian Montesanto and Shane Jones. Soph end Nick Johnson is the best bet to round out the D-line. ASU loses some veteran linebackers from last year's unit and needs some retooling at the position. Jamar Williams will be looked at to step in and produce and Jordan Hill, Justin Burks and Barton Hammit will all compete for time. Four out of five starters return to what was a young ASU secondary last year. And while young, it still led the Pac-10 with 22 interceptions and should be regarded as one of the league's best units this season. Speedy R.J. Oliver is a standout on the corner and the Devils are blessed at the safety positions with Jason Shivers, Riccardo Stewart and Brett Hudson leading a very deep group.
Kicking Game: A replacement must be found for departed veteran placekicker Mike Barth, but the Sun Devils are in good shape at punter with Tim Parker, who led the Pac-10 last year with a 42.7-yard average.