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Pac-12 Sports
Kurt Kragthorpe and Kyle Goon
Kurt Kragthorpe and Kyle Goon cover the Pac-12 for The Salt Lake Tribune.

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Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly (10) throws a pass to wide receiver Jaelen Strong over Washington State linebacker Cyrus Coen (42) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)
Pac-12 football preview: Arizona State offense will help Sun Devils contend

"Unfinished business."

The theme of this season for Arizona State is what was left undone last year: Pac-12 championship. Rose Bowl. A bowl win at all, actually. In the words of Todd Graham: "Our program's about winning championships, period."

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The Sun Devils came just a few steps shy of accomplishing that goal last fall, hosting the Pac-12 championship but falling to Stanford. A triumphant season was shaded by late losses, including back-to-back drops to the Cardinal and the Fighting Kliff Kingsburys.

But the expectations for this year's team range all over the map. ASU is ranked in the preseason USA Today poll, but other preseason countdowns and lists have docked the Devils for their inexperience on the defensive side of the ball where only two starters return.

A lot of what you think about Arizona State rests on what you think of quarterback Taylor Kelly. The leader of the Sun Devils' NASCAR-paced offense, Kelly is poised to be one of the all-time greats in ASU history. He'll have some good pieces around him, including receiver Jaelen Strong, making the offense go once again. ASU scored more than 50 points in six different games last year, and although the receiving corps is heavily reliant on Strong, the Sun Devils hope some other weapons will step up.

The question, then, is what of the defense? It's a completely rebuilt operation, with only two starters back. Graham said at Pac-12 media days he like the speed of the guys filling those roles, and he's looking for a solid transition: That's the kind of program Arizona State likes to think it is.

"So we'll adapt, obviously, early in the season," he said. "We need to score points and we need to really be dominant when it comes to defense and special teams to help us grow those guys. Will we be as talented and experienced on defense? Well, no. But I do think we'll surprise a lot of people with the productivity in the country."

The Sun Devils can't throw tortillas on the field any longer, but the fans are still hoping the season's end will bring a reason to celebrate.

2013 IN REVIEW • 10-4, 8-1 in the Pac-12, lost to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl

RETURNING STARTERS • 10 total (6 offense, 2 defense, 2 specialists)

TOP RETURNING PLAYER • While Taylor Kelly merits strong consideration, he's no Jaelen Strong. The junior wideout has the size and strength of an elite receiver, but he also gets separation like few others in the league. His breakout season last year made him one of the most feared and respected playmakers in the nation.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK • Defensive line seems to be an area of concern, especially replacing disruptive tackle Will Sutton. While Jaxon Hood and Marcus Hardison are expected to fill some of that void, it's unclear how effective they can be in stopping the run.

SCHEDULE OUTLOOK • The Sun Devils could easily be 3-0 going into their first bye, followed by a season-defining game hosting UCLA. If ASU beats the Bruins, it faces its next closest competition the next week with a road trip to USC. Another bye before a revenge opportunity against Stanford, and then ASU has a lineup of strong - but not elite - teams leading to the end of the regular season. It will be interesting to see if the Sun Devils' youth can gain momentum on that back end; if so, an 8- or 9-win season isn't out of the question. The four weeks in which the Bruins, Trojans and Cardinal all come up will be the difference between being a good team and taking care of that nagging unfinished business.

— Kyle Goon

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon

PAC-12 Links
Links from around the Pac-12
Arizona (Tucson Citizen)
» UA football: Arizona trailing Cal 31-13 through three quarters
» Photos: Cal vs. Arizona
» Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Caldwell's pin count goes into record books
» Live fan chat during the Arizona vs. Cal football game

Arizona St. (Arizona Republic)
» How ASU football's commits fared Friday night
» ASU soccer wins its sixth consecutive match
» Colorado State volleyball holds off ASU
» Following ASU coaches on the recruiting trail

California (East Bay Tribune)
» Local sports digest: Stanford, Cal in water polo showdown
» Cal to release report next week on how to improve athletes' classwork
» Fact box: Cal at Arizona
» Cal finds out Saturday if 2-0 start is for real

Colorado (Denver Post)
» Speedy freshman Donovan Lee gives CU Buffs another playmaker
» Colorado coached to avoid coin-toss glitches, MacIntyre says
» Colorado's MacIntyre gratified Buffs practiced hard Monday
» CU Buffs tackle Jeromy Irwin might play vs. Hawaii after concussion

Oregon (The Oregonian)
» Oregon Ducks open up Autzen Stadium doors for Fan Fest: Photo gallery
» No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 22 Clemson highlights college football top 25; Live updates: Full schedule, TV listings
» Utah vs. Michigan highlights Pac-12 football games; Live updates: Full schedule, TV listings
» No. 2 Oregon Ducks vs. Washington State Cougars: Live updates

Oregon State (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
» Oregon State roundup (Sept. 19)
» OSU men's basketball: Tinkle says positive steps being made
» Spencer to become new AD at Evansville
» BeaversSalute program gives tickets to military personnel and veterans

Stanford (San Jose Mercury-News)
» Stanford coach David Shaw goes digging
» Cal, Stanford Pac-12 men's basketball schedules announced
» Local sports digest: Stanford's Maverick McNealy ties for medalist honors
» Local sports digest: Stanford sweeps Santa Clara

UCLA (Los Angeles Daily News)
» UCLA Football Notebook: Running back Malcolm Jones loses appeal for extra season
» COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Improving UCLA has questions to answer during preseason football camp
» COLLEGE FOOTBALL: UCLA's prized recruit Eddie Vanderdoes cleared to play by NCAA after leaving Notre Dame
» Pac-12 Media Day: Eyes on Anthony Barr for UCLA's 2013 hopes

USC (Los Angeles Daily News)
» USC Football Notebook: Marqise Lee's injury not too serious
» USC Football Notebook: QBs Max Wittek, Cody Kessler present dilemma for Trojans coach Lane Kiffin
» USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel thinks Trojans might not miss QB Matt Barkley
» USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Dion Bailey says it's 'now or never'

Washington (Seattle Times)
» Huskies don't appear ready for Pac-12 play
» Huskies weather a dismal first half to run away from Georgia State in the second half, 45-14
» Video: UW's Cyler Miles, Jeff Lindquist after 45-14 victory over Georgia State
» UW's Chris Petersen: 'The first half was about as bad a football as I've been around maybe ever'

Washington State (Spokane Spokesman-Review)
» WSU pregame chat
» Breaking the rules occasionally pays off
» Eastern football links
» Game da… night links



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