Coach:Dennis Erickson (15-10 in two seasons at Arizona State; 131-60-1 in 16 seasons overall). | Staff In 2008: 5-7 overall; 4-5 in Pac-10 (tied for sixth in league).
Returning starters: Offense: 4. Defense: 6. Special teams: 1. | Depth Chart Final 2008 Rivals.com ranking: 66th. | Complete Final 2008 Rankings Past four Rivals.com national recruiting rankings: 30th in 2009, 21st in '08, 45th in '07, 28th in '06.
THE SCHEME: The Sun Devils use a pro-set offense with three receivers and a tight end. But they're implementing some zone-read components, which will put the quarterback in the shotgun and won't require linemen to hold blocks as long.
STAR POWER: A toe injury limited WR Chris McGaha last season and he managed just 35 receptions. Now recovered, he could return to his '07 form in which he had 61 receptions. Of course, a lot of that will depend on the guy(s) throwing the ball.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: True freshman RB Cameron Marshall is big, strong and fast. A three-star prospect, he could get a chance to make a significant contribution right away.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Senior WR Kyle Williams has talent but has largely underachieved thus far with 52 receptions in his three seasons combined. He has the potential to reach that number this season. The success of the Sun Devils' passing game may depend on it.
STRONGEST AREA: Although last season's leading rusher, Dimitri Nance, managed only 410 yards, the situation at running back isn't bad. There is depth and versatility. Nance is back. So is Shaun DeWitty, who was the Sun Devils' third-leading rusher. Marshall figures to provide an injection of speed, and sophomore Ryan Bass will challenge for carries, too.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Arizona State's issues on offense begin up front. The line has allowed 89 sacks over the past two seasons and struggled in run blocking last season. Sophomore G Zach Schlink returns from injury, and sophomore C Garth Gerhart moves into the starting lineup after beating out incumbent Thomas Altieri. Shawn Lauvao began last season at guard, then moved to right tackle; this season, he's expected to start at left tackle. Coaches expect improvement, but the players have to show it, though.
THE SCHEME: Since coordinator Craig Bray arrived three years ago, the Sun Devils have employed a 4-3 set. That's not going to change. Arizona State has had back-to-back solid units under Bray, and the line projects to be his strongest yet.
STAR POWER: Senior E Dexter Davis had 11 sacks in '08 to rank among the nation's top 10. He has finished among the Pac-10's top three in sacks in each of the past two seasons and has 27.5 sacks in his career. He also has forced eight fumbles in his career.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Freshman LB Vontaze Burfict, a five-star prospect, is one of the most heralded recruits in school history. He could distinguish himself right away ? if he qualifies. He's in summer school, and the reports out of Tempe are that the coaching staff is optimistic he'll make it.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Redshirt freshman SS Keelan Johnson has good speed and has drawn praise for his ball skills. He can deliver a powerful hit, too. Johnson earned scout team MVP honors while sitting out as a redshirt in '08. He'll have a chance to break into the starting lineup ? or at least contribute in nickel or dime packages ? this season at a position in need.
STRONGEST AREA: The line projects as maybe one of the best in the nation. Davis is a tremendous pass rusher and sophomore T Lawrence Guy was a staple on freshman All-America teams. Sophomore E James Brooks has tremendous size and athletic ability; look for him to raise his performance and profile. The depth up front is good, too.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Both of Arizona State's starting safeties from a year ago are gone; that includes All-Pac 10 selection Mike Nolan. Former LB Ryan McFoy, sophomore Clint Floyd (who is returning from a kidney injury), Johnson and Max Tabach (coming back from a torn ACL) are the options. They have a lot to prove.
The kicking game is sound. Junior K Thomas Weber converted 76 percent of his field-goal attempts (19-of-25) last season, and it was considered a bad year. That's because he hit 24-of-25 as a freshman. Still, seven misses in two years is no reason to complain. Plus, three of last season's misses were blocked, which suggests the problem was not necessarily Weber's. He also handled punting chores and averaged 41.4 yards an attempt, but he had two blocked. As far as returns go, Williams is among the Pac-10's best; he led the league in punt returns most of last year before faltering late in the season, but he still averaged 17 yards per return. He also averaged more than 23 yards on kickoff returns, though he's expected to relinquish those duties.
With 163 career victories, Erickson is the ninth-winningest active coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks. He's never had back-to-back losing seasons as a college coach, a designation that will be tested after last season's 5-7 finish. Although entering his 21st season, Erickson isn't set in his ways, which is obvious by his willingness to implement the zone-read into the offense. Offensive coordinator Rich Olson has an impressive r?m?but he must get more production from a unit that averaged fewer than 23 points per game last season. Bray has had two solid years as the defensive coordinator.
Opening with Idaho State and Louisiana-Monroe should ensure the Sun Devils a fast start before a trip to Georgia. If they can make home field a true advantage, a big year could loom. Oregon State, USC, California and archrival Arizona must travel to Tempe. A three-game stretch beginning on Halloween against California, USC and Oregon likely will determine whether the Sun Devils have a good season or a mediocre one.
As previously mentioned, Erickson hasn't had consecutive losing seasons as a college coach. A strong defense, a favorable schedule and potential improvement on offense should keep that streak intact. Quarterback is an area of concern with four-year starter Rudy Carpenter having completed his eligibility. Danny Sullivan came out of spring as the starter, but he still faces a challenge from sophomore Samson Szakacsy and true freshman Brock Osweiler. The Sun Devils aren't ready to contend for the Pac-10 title. But the defense should be strong, so if the quarterback situation stabilizes and the offensive line improves, Arizona State could make a run at eight victories.