But the Sun Devils suffered a second-half collapse, winning just once more, and coach Dennis Erickson was shown the door after five seasons.
Erickson had immediate success at Arizona State, leading the team to a 10-3 record and a Pac-10 co-championship in his first season in 2007. But that was as good as it got for Erickson in Tempe.
Todd Graham left Pittsburgh after less than one year for the Arizona State job.
Arizona State at-a-glance
Coach: Todd Graham (1st season)
The new coach is Todd Graham, who burned some bridges in Pittsburgh after being the Panthers' coach for a little less than a year. Like Erickson, Graham brings a reputation as being a coach who has solid offenses. Graham also promises to make the Sun Devils more accountable, something that was a problem during Erickson's regime.
Graham takes over a team with just eight returning starters (four on each side of the ball). This spring, he is looking for a new quarterback and has to rebuild the offensive line, receiving and linebacking corps and revamp the secondary.
The biggest problem: Lack of familiarity with the players. Arizona State's new coaches have to learn about their personnel, and exacerbating the problem is that the Sun Devils are particularly thin at several positions, most notably wide receiver, quarterback, linebacker and offensive line, where a majority of last season's contributors are gone. Additionally, the new regime will try to instill a disciplined mindset in addition to installing new offensive and defensive schemes. It's a difficult challenge, but there is talent to work with and that should mitigate some of the challenges.
On the spot: CB Deveron Carr. Carr looked like an emerging star late in the 2010 season as a sophomore because of his size, athleticism and coverage ability. But after suffering a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery, Carr had a forgettable junior campaign. He looked hesitant against the run and had a number of significant coverage lapses that led to big plays. Arizona State has some depth at the position in the form of Louisiana-Monroe transfer Robert Nelson and youngsters Devan Spann and Rashad Wadood, so if Carr doesn't show better toughness and consistency, his job could be at risk.
On the verge: OL Jamil Douglas. Arizona State returns just two starters on the offensive line, but position coach Bob Connelly said he believes one of the players waiting in the wings is Douglas, a versatile talent capable of becoming a standout. Douglas, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound sophomore, saw limited action at left tackle and left guard last season, but he could be a starter in 2012. Connelly said he views Douglas as a potential future all-league guard but is also athletic enough to play tackle if needed.
General overview: Above all else, Graham wants to establish a cultural identity in Tempe. He has asked players to allow him to coach them hard and that includes 6 a.m. weightlifting sessions where they're required to wear specific team gear. Earrings and hats are not permitted to be worn to any football-related activities and tardiness is not tolerated, and the hope is that a strict adherence to discipline will carry over to the field. Graham and his staff are aware of the Sun Devils' propensity to unnecessarily harm their chances to win games, and wish to put an end to it.
For in-depth coverage of Arizona State athletics, go to ASUDevils.com
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