Todd Graham has never been one to shy away from high expectations.
From the minute he took over as head coach at Arizona State he promised change, an image makeover and a more respectable product on and off the field for the Sun Devils.
An 8-5 debut which included an exciting comeback win over in-state rival Arizona paired with a blowout over Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl laid a solid foundation moving forward
Graham wants something much bigger this fall.
“This is the best opportunity I’ve had in my life to accomplish something really special,” Graham told Brad Cesmat in a recent interview on ‘Big Guy on Sports.’ “That’s to be a Rose Bowl champion team and Pac-12 champion team. I really believe in this team and I really believe we have the opportunity to do that.”
On paper it appears Graham isn’t merely spewing “coach speak.” Eternal optimism is common this time of year with the dawn of a new, fresh season on the horizon.
ASU is loaded with playmakers in key positions on both sides of the ball. Defensively it all begins with All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton who put his NFL future on hold and returned for his senior season. Pass-rush specialist Carl Bradford is back, as is safety Alden Darby to spearhead the secondary. Junior quarterback Taylor Kelly has a solid grasp of the offense. Running backs Marion Grice and DJ Foster are more experienced, as is field-stretching tight end Chris Coyle.
“I feel the best about our players, our development,” Graham explained to Cesmat. “I think we’re well ahead of where we need to be from a training standpoint. There are high expectations.”
One unknown is at wide receiver where the Devils welcome a handful of talented, yet unproven junior college transfers. The most notable of the group is 6’4, 200-pound Jaelen Strong who spurned offers from Arizona and Oregon State among others to sign with ASU. He racked up 1,263 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns last year at Pierce Community College in California.
“He’s worked really hard,” Graham said. “He has three years of eligibility left…he’s a guy that can be a dynamic player for us. [He] gives us the size and explosiveness you want at the wide receiver position.”
Whatever the Sun Devils do accomplish this season it certainly won’t be easy with a tough early-season stretch of games which includes Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame.
“Would I recommend that schedule every year?” Graham said. “No, I wouldn’t…it’s not going to be easy. The thing we have to focus on is just [taking it] one game at a time.”