College Confidential: What to Watch This Fall

If you woke up earlier this week and scrolled around social media a little confused, don’t be.

It’s not the “official” start of the college football season but don’t tell the Southeastern Conference who kicked off SEC Media Days Monday from Hoover, Alabama.

The event spans a total of four days. The Arizona State Sun Devils will get their first taste of an SEC opponent in the Todd Graham Era when they open against Texas A&M in Houston on September 5th. 

With the real season starting in less than seven weeks here’s a little preview of what’s to like and what could be a few areas of concern for ASU, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

ASU: 

What to Like: Let’s start with Graham. He’s kept almost every promise since arriving in Tempe and is in the process of his first major home improvement which is expected to be completed by the fall. Last year’s young defense will be a year older and better, specifically at linebacker with playmakers Salamo Fiso and Antonio Longino back in the fold. Offensively, the backfield is loaded with sophomores Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage and senior wide receiver/running back/athlete D.J. Foster. A somewhat veteran offensive line returns anchored by center Nick Kelly and guard/tackle Christian Westerman.

Areas of Concern: Wide receivers. Gone are Jaelen Strong to the NFL and Cam Smith to injury. Foster was second in 2014 with 62 catches but no other returning player snagged more than 16. Junior college transfer Tim White, along with freshmen Jalen Harvey and Terrell Chapman will be given opportunities in Mike Norvell’s spread offense. Keep an eye on UCLA transfer Devin Lucien, as well. Special teams have been far from it under Graham and who will step up as a pass-rusher with disruptive force Marcus Hardison now in the NFL? Also, unlike the past two years, there is no quarterback experience behind incumbent starter Mike Bercovici.

UA:

What to Like: Scooby Wright. Tough to find a more dominant force in college football who’s out to prove last season was just the beginning. The three-headed monster offensively with quarterback Anu Solomon, running back Nick Wilson and wide receiver Kayleb Jones. Head coach Rich Rodriguez has been pleased with Solomon’s off-season work after an underwhelming effort in the Fiesta Bowl. The ‘Cats are riding the momentum of a Pac-12 South title and double-digit win season. UA will likely be 3-0 before opening conference play at home against UCLA.

Areas of Concern: The offensive line must replace three starters from a group who helped pave the way to nine games of 30 or more points in Coach Rod’s spread offense. The ‘Cats are also no longer the hunted, but the hunter in the South. Establishing depth and staying relatively injury-free will be imperative this fall without the benefit of a single off week. UA also lost experience and playmakers in the back of their secondary.

NAU: 

What to Like: Big, experienced wide receivers who can stretch the field and make plays like Dejzon Walker. Former Hamilton High star, Washington Husky transfer Kendyl Taylor will be used in a variety of ways offensively and also benefit special teams efficiency. Head coach Jerome Souers has been stockpiling the Lumberjacks roster with Arizona high school talent adding depth and skill on both sides of the ball. Senior Running back Casey Jahn tallied over 1,100 total yards and seven touchdowns last season.

Areas of Concern: Who is going to be getting the ball to those playmakers? Souers thought former Chaparral star Connor Brewer was headed to Flagstaff before he changed course and landed at the University of Virginia. Another former Hamilton Husky Kyren Poe, who saw extensive action last season could be the guy. Early season games against Arizona, Montana and Montana State will answer plenty of questions.