South By Southwest? ESPN Insider Says There’s a Chance

In the past two years we’ve seen a desert revival here in Arizona.

Arizona State’s Todd Graham and University of Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez have quickly raised the bar of expectations for their respective football programs entering their third seasons on campus.

Last fall Graham and the Sun Devils reached one goal, winning the Pac-12 South before ending the year with a pair of lopsided losses; including a disappointing Holiday Bowl setback to Texas Tech. The Wildcats capped their season on a high note trouncing Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl.

Both programs have issues to address on both sides of the ball as they kick-off play next week. The Devils lost a slew of talent on defense, while the ‘Cats need to settle on a quarterback (or two) to replace last year’s starter B.J. Denker.

Still, there is reason for optimism with both programs ascending.

“I think both of them are teams that are capable, if things break right, of winning the [Pac-12] South,” ESPN college football insider Brad Edwards told Sports360AZ.com’s Brad Cesmat in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “They’re certainly not a favorite but I like some of the pieces.”

Edwards believes UofA’s steady offensive line will help alleviate some of the pressure for the new signal-caller and says it’s key the defense continues to build off their 2013 success.

“Typically, when Rich Rod has it going [offensively],” Edwards told Cesmat. “If they can play mediocre defense, they should win a number of games.”

Meanwhile in Tempe, All-Pac-12 quarterback Taylor Kelly is looking to cement his place in Sun Devil history with another Pac-12 division title but one important key will be the development of an inexperienced defensive line and youth at linebacker and in the secondary. The conference is loaded with talented skill players, particularly under center, so Graham’s ultimate challenge will be getting big contributions from true freshmen like Tashon Smallwood and D.J. Calhoun.  

Edwards says both teams have a shot at solid seasons even if they fail to win the South.

“They are two teams that have a chance to be in the Top 25 this year if things go well.”

Most national publications tab UCLA or USC as the frontrunners to win the division.