Fair or not, Sun Devils’ success rides on Taylor Kelly’s progression

I don’t even care people laugh.

I’m unfazed by the jokes, rolled eyes and references to my “college football porn” as it’s been coined.

Yes, while many use the searing Phoenix summer months as an excuse to hit the pool, mall or fill-in-the-blank vacation destination I’m the one seen scouring book stores in search of Street & Smith, Athlon and Phil Steele.

My passion is college football and those magazines help scratch the itch until the calendar reaches Labor Day.

Upon picking up the Athlon version a few weeks ago and flipping to the Arizona State writeup it came as no surprise the first name mentioned was Taylor Kelly.

A year ago Kelly’s name was tossed in the quarterback hat with Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici . One of the many unknowns entering Todd Graham’s first season in Tempe. Now the junior from Eagle, Idaho is being called, by one well-respected analyst, one of the best quarterbacks in the the nation. 

It’s a nice story for the soft-spoken, humble kid who teaches and mentors students at South Mountain and Cesar Chavez High School and has earned the respect of his Sun Devil teammates for his lead-by-example approach on and off the field. His work in the community earned him a nomination for the AFCA Good Works Award.

To get ASU to the “next level” Kelly must be better when the stakes are higher.

His 2012 stats (241-359, 3039 yards, 30 total touchdowns and nine interceptions) were exceptional considering he only threw four passes in mop-up duty his freshman season. Not bad for a kid who had just one other scholarship offer (Nevada) coming out of high school.

But the past is in the past.

From the moment Graham put on the maroon and gold golf shirt a year and a half ago he spoke victory, Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships.

Apparently people are buying what he’s selling. Several publications, including Athlon’s, have the Sun Devils winning the South.

To get ASU to the “next level” Kelly must be better when the stakes are higher.

His worst games were lopsided losses to Oregon and USC where he combined for just 267 passing yards with two touchdowns and five picks.

The challenges are much greater this fall. Simply “managing the game” won’t be enough for Kelly to get ASU to the next level.

Two-win Illinois is replaced by BCS-regular Wisconsin.

Missouri by Notre Dame.

You can bet until the Devils’ handful of incoming junior college receivers prove they can get open and stretch the field defensive coordinators will be stacking the line of scrimmage to stop the run, daring Kelly to beat them with his arm. Now every team in the conference, with the exception of Rose Bowl champ Stanford, has seen Kelly in person and on film.

A year ago few outside the Sun Devil program knew who he was.

Now Kelly and the Sun Devils sit in the spotlight not outside of it.

With four of the first five games against Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame there will be no surprises.

Let’s just hope the level-headed Kelly isn’t sharing my reading preferences this summer.