Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
During Arizona State's 8-0 start in 2007, you could have produced a chorus of angels hailing Dennis Erickson's first season. But when the competition picked up, it became clear that the Sun Devils still had a long way to go. They've gone 7-10 since then, including a bowl-less 5-7 record this season, which started with a No. 15 preseason ranking.
The problem was the offense, specifically the line. It was bad. The Sun Devils couldn't run -- they ranked 113th in the country in rushing -- and couldn't protect quarterback Rudy Carpenter (see 34 sacks surrendered). But the blame should be spread around. Carpenter and his touted receivers didn't live up to expectations this season.
The defense was solid, but not good enough to make up for an offense that only scored 22.8 points per game. Toss in a tougher schedule than 2007, and it's not that hard to see where a six-game losing streak came from.
Turning point: The Sun Devils were supposed to be priming for a marquee matchup with preseason No. 1 Georgia when woeful UNLV came to town on Sept. 13, but that's when things started to go very wrong. The Rebels prevailed, 23-20, in overtime, and Arizona State never recovered. That was the first of six consecutive defeats, but by far the most deflating.
Offensive MVP: This is a tough one because the offense struggled mightily and Carpenter deserves his share of the blame for that. But it's hard to imagine where the unit would have been without him, and Carpenter deserves a tip of the cap for starting 43 consecutive games, throwing for more than 10,000 career yards and ranking third on the Pac-10 career list with 80 touchdown passes. He threw for 2,493 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
Defensive MVP: Safety Troy Nolan was the biggest difference-maker on a defense that played well much of the season. He finished with 64 tackles, four interceptions and scored three touchdowns. He also broke up 10 passes.
What's next: With four starters back, the offensive line has to get better, doesn't it? Of course, the primary offseason focus will be replacing Carpenter, with Danny Sullivan first in line on the depth chart, but a couple of youngsters will nip at his heals this spring. The defensive line should be fairly strong with the return of end Dexter Davis and tackle Lawrence Guy, but there will be holes on all three levels, with safety a particular concern. Erickson's recruiting has been strong, with a number of freshmen playing in 2008. They should be better with a year of seasoning.