Don't be surprised if ... Arizona State

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Second in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.

Don't be surprised if...

Arizona State shows signs that it's developing an elite defense.

Arizona State was exposed by Texas in the 2007 Holiday Bowl, particularly by a lack of team speed on defense. The Sun Devils played solid defense in 2008, ranking fourth in the Pac-10 in scoring (22.7 points per game) and fifth in yards allowed (335 yards per game). Those numbers look even better when the offensive anemia is factored in.

But no one mistook the Sun Devils for USC. Or, honestly, California or Oregon State.

That might be changing.

Dennis Erickson, though he's an offensive guy, has always recognized that the key to a good defense is speed at all three levels. He was one of the first guys to recruit linebackers to play defensive line and safeties to play linebacker.

Erickson has been stockpiling defensive speed, and that should start to reveal itself this fall. It's possible that a couple of returning starters could be displaced by youngsters, and it's a near certainty that incoming freshman linebacker Vontaze Burfict is going to find a way onto the field.

It might not be perfect early. Finding the right rotation of youth and experience might provoke some growing pains.

Will the group start to jell by the game three visit to Georgia on Sept. 26? We'll see.

But things should tighten by the start of the conference slate. And, with a lot of freshmen and sophomores likely seeing significant action, the future looks bright.