Second in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles (you can see Arizona State's 2009 prediction here).
Don't be surprised if ... Arizona State's offensive numbers are significantly better in 2010
Let's just get this out of the way: Arizona State's offense was terrible last year. It averaged just 18.1 points per game against Pac-10 foes, which ranked ninth in the conference (another moment for a team to say, "Thank God for Washington State").
Oh, and heading into 2010, that unit must replace seven starters, including its quarterback, best lineman, leading rusher and two best receivers.
So how could anyone be optimistic about the Sun Devils' offense?
Start with this factoid: Arizona State scored 34 touchdowns last year. UCLA went to a bowl game despite scoring just 25 in the regular season.
What was the difference between the Bruins and Sun Devils? Field goals. UCLA connected on 28, Arizona State just 11.
The Bruins had All-American Kai Forbath. The Sun Devils had former Lou Groza Award winner Thomas Weber sitting on the bench hurt. Weber kicked five field goals in the opener but was healthy enough to only contribute three more the rest of the way.
The Sun Devils, who finished 4-8, lost four games by a combined 13 points. Think a few more field goals would have helped? How about 51 more points, which is the difference in that department between the Bruins and Sun Devils?
But it's not just about the healthy return of an outstanding kicker. The Sun Devils will be substantially better at quarterback, no matter who wins the competition between Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler. While it's an indelicate thing to say, Danny Sullivan was simply not a Pac-10-level QB. Threet and Osweiler both are impressive physical specimens who have talent.
The Sun Devils' receivers and running backs won't wow anyone, but as groups they are reasonably solid. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has skill to work with and he brings a fresh set of eyes and new ideas.
Of course, the offensive line, particularly after the loss of guard Jon Hargis to a knee injury, is a huge question. But if the Sun Devils get lucky with health issues up front going forward -- they certainly are due --then they should be OK.
And OK might be pretty darn good. Combined with a stingy defense, a mediocre offense -- instead of a terrible one -- will get the Sun Devils to a bowl game.