Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the Eye on College Football examines what current hot topic the fans of one BCS team are obsessing over -- rationally or not. Today's team: the Arizona State Sun Devils .
What they're talking about is ... spring practice. Especially after the heartbreaking last-second loss to Texas in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night. The Arizona State fans are quickly turning their attention to spring practice on the football field, which (thankfully) opened on Tuesday. With a Pac-12 South division title to defend and quarterback Taylor Kelly back for another year as the starting quarterback, the expectations are high in Tempe. Todd Graham reflected those high expectations this week, discussing the "unfinished business" ahead for the 2014 Sun Devils.
"We have unfinished business. We wanted to finish," Graham said Tuesday after the team's first drills of the spring. "We want to honor those guys that laid that foundation by finishing. How are we going to do that? We leave no doubt."
What they're saying is… brace yourself for new stars on defense. Arizona State is losing nine starters on defense, most notably All-Pac-12 standouts Carl Bradford and Will Sutton. Those two players were a big part of the attacking defensive scheme that resulted in the unit ranking in the Top 10 nationally with 101 tackles for loss on the season.
If Arizona State is going to defend its division title against the likes of USC, UCLA and a surging Arizona program, new defensive stars will need to emerge in 2014. Over at House of Sparky, SB Nation's Arizona State site, they have identified one potential star in defensive end Marcus Hardison.
Graham has high expectations for the junior college transfer who had an underwhelming year last season. Hardison was highly touted coming out of junior college, but his coach admitted that the Sun Devil staff didn't make the most of Hardison's transition.
"We're leaning on him big time. We didn't transition him as fast as we usually do, you know with JC guys," Graham said. "He had a good year, not a great year. He's going to have a great, great year next year."
The Sun Devils have shown adaptations to their defensive scheme in the first two spring practices and Graham said Hardison's skill set is a major reason why. Graham said the Sun Devils will stunt with Hardison and get him on the move, and work him to both the field and boundary sides of the defensive alignment to maximize his abilities.
"We adapted what we we're doing to Will's (Sutton) talents and Carl's (Bradford) talents," Graham said. "Marcus is the one guy right now, he's going to be a guy that we're going to adapt to his skills."
Early enrollee Edmond Boateng, a 6-foot-4 defensive end, is also starting some chatter with his appearances this week. He has reportedly bulked up from 260 to 270 and will have an opportunity to compete for first-string snaps.
What we're saying is...the defending division champs will get everyone's best shot. Arizona State is not going to sneak up on anyone in the South in 2014. The Sun Devils embarrassed USC (leading to Lane Kiffin's dismissal in September), beat rival Arizona by 37 and edged out UCLA 38-33 in the Rose Bowl on the way to going 8-1 in league play. The Sun Devils return a strong offensive trio of quarterback Taylor Kelly, emerging running back D.J. Foster and wide receiver Jaelen Strong; but the holes on defense need to be filled in order for ASU to avoid a slide in 2014.