It’s a slow time of year in college football. Spring practices are over, the NFL draft has come and gone, leaving four long months before college football returns to our television screens. We’ll take a look at some questions facing each Pac-12 team over the next couple of weeks. Next up: Arizona State
Who will win the quarterback competition?
Following the Sun Devils’ spring game, Manny Wilkins, the team’s incumbent starting quarterback, said his mindset wasn’t about wanting to win the job. “My mindset is I will win,” he said. It’s the proper approach, but Wilkins’ path back to the field was seriously complicated by the team’s acquisition of former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett. For Barnett, the decision to leave Tuscaloosa can be boiled down to one thing: playing time. There are other elements that factored in, of course, but it is unlikely Barnett would have decided on Arizona State if he didn’t feel like he would have the opportunity to play right way. Coach Todd Graham hasn’t provided much publicly to indicate which way he’s leaning, but it spoke volumes that the program was interested in a transfer quarterback at all, considering there are now six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. If Barnett isn’t the starter when the season begins, it will be a surprise.
Is Todd Graham’s seat starting to warm up?
Graham built up some good with a 28-12 record over his first three seasons, including a Pac-12 South title in 2013. That early success made it easy to write off the 6-7 record in 2015 as a product of the cyclical nature of college football. Graham was fine. Even as the Sun Devils failed to field anything that resembled a defense last year and failed to make a bowl game with a 5-7 record, it was illogical to believe his job was in danger. This year, though, the conversation is fair game. ASU has regressed the last three seasons and if that streak reaches four, ASU will have ample reason to make a change. The schedule will make that difficult. After opening the season at home against New Mexico State, San Diego State and Texas Tech will make for a challenging rest of the nonconference schedule before a brutal start to conference play (Oregon, at Stanford, Washington).
How much of a difference will defensive coordinator Phil Bennett make?
In the last ten years, there have been only ten Power 5 teams that allowed more points per game than ASU did last year (39.8). Part of that is indicative of how good offenses were in the Pac-12 -- Cal and Oregon both allowed more points in 2016 -- but there is no real silver lining: ASU was historically bad. Graham has been largely responsible for the defense, but he still had to make a change at defensive coordinator and did so by demoting Keith Patterson and bringing in veteran Phil Bennett from Baylor. Bennett’s nearly 40 years of coaching experience will be an asset, but his defense allowed 37.2 points per game last year. Any expectations for a vastly improved unit need to be tempered.