ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS Head coach: Dennis Erickson Last season: 10-3 overall, 7-2 in the Pac-10; lost 52-34 to Texas in the Holiday Bowl. Spring practice: March 25-April 19
Arizona State enjoyed a rebirth in its first season under Dennis Erickson, winning 10 games for the first time since 1996 and sharing the Pac-10 title. But after starting the season with eight consecutive wins, the Sun Devils' offensive line woes caught up with them, culminating in a 44-24 loss on Thanksgiving to USC. Arizona State returns key starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Rudy Carpenter and seven on a defense that was vastly improved. Here's a look at the Sun Devils as they open spring drills.
Rudy Carpenter gives Arizona State one of the Pac-10's best quarterbacks.
Arizona State's offensive skill positions are in good hands. With Carpenter's 31 consecutive starts and TB Keegan Herring's 2,234 career yards, Arizona State has the most experienced backfield in the Pac-10. Jones and McGaha combined for 107 receptions and 1,599 yards last year. The defensive line returns three starters from a group that was one of the best in the Pac-10. Davis broke out with 10.5 sacks last season, when Davis, Vasquez and Smith combined for 31.5 tackles for losses.
HELP IS NEEDED
Standout center Mike Pollak and both tackles are gone from an offensive line that allowed 4.2 sacks per game, the most in the Pac-10. As Arizona State proved last year, those skill-position players will be limited if the line is not more productive. The Sun Devils will look to Njunge and converted defensive tackle Jon Hargis to play left tackle.
KEEP AN EYE ON
LB Oliver Aaron: The redshirt freshman was the scout team defensive player of the year. Out of the Robert James mold, he has the ability to grab one of the outside linebacker spots.
DE James Brooks: Brooks is the best pure athlete at the position, but the redshirt freshman must try to distinguish himself this spring at a position that returns two starters and adds two junior college transfers in the fall.
C Garth Gerhart: Gerhart, a redshirt freshman, will compete with junior Thomas Altieri to take over for Pollak - the best lineman for the Sun Devils last year.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Carpenter has played through a quarterback controversy after his freshman year, hand injuries as a sophomore and a coaching change and a porous offensive line as a junior. He enters his senior season with a chance to be perhaps the best quarterback in the Pac-10. To live up to that billing, Arizona State needs him to recapture some of the form that allowed him to lead the nation in passing efficiency as a redshirt freshman. He has the right supporting cast and the right coach to do so.
Arizona State spent the offseason reeling in the nation's No. 21-ranked signing class and drawing the ire of Arizona coach Mike Stoops on the recruiting trail. Coach Dennis Erickson made a big splash in his first season in Tempe, raising the bar for Year Two.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.