Sun Devils have high, thorny hopes

Tough early schedule likely to show if ASU can compete nationally
2013-08-03T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:17:09Z Sun Devils have high, thorny hopesPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

TEMPE - When Todd Graham was a boy in Mesquite, Texas, he'd watch the Rose Bowl on an old black and white television.

"Man, I'm excited," the coach said Friday, as the Sun Devils are preparing to start fall camp Tuesday. "This is the closest I've ever been to something like that."

Yes, the Sun Devils are talking about winning the Pac-12.

"I've never been as close to it," Graham said, "and you can feel it. So I'm excited to get things started."

It's not just that ASU finished last season with three straight wins, including a 62-28 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl victory against Navy. The team's schedule this year gives ASU a chance to make a name for itself; Weeks 2-5 feature a gauntlet of Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame.

"We feel like we're one of the best teams in the country, that we can compete with those guys," junior offensive tackle Jamil Douglas said.

Graham said his offense, which finished No. 25 nationally in yards last year, can be even better, as long as the team improves on its 24 turnovers and average of 6.62 tackles-for-loss allowed last year. ASU was No. 77 and No. 99 in the nation, respectively, in those categories.

"Just eliminating that factor itself will take our offense to another level," sophomore running back D.J. Foster said.

Foster spoke Friday under wall art displaying the Pac-12 championship trophy and a Rose Bowl logo.

For the Sun Devils and their second-year coach, it's more than just a concept. It's a goal.

"Last year was a question mark," Foster said. "Everything was a question mark. Everything was new.

"Eliminating that … we realize the type of year we can have. The schedule we have is set up for us to have the year we want to have."

ASU legend dies

Wilford "Whizzer" White, a charter member of the school's hall of fame and only one of five Sun Devils to have his number retired, died Thursday at 84, the school said Friday.

White fell unconscious and died while on an ambulance headed to a Phoenix hospital, his daughter-in-law told the AP.

From 1947 to 1950, the running back gained 3,173 yards. It was the most in ASU history at the time, and is now fourth.

Graham called the Mesa native "the first great Sun Devil" and "one of my favorite people I've met since the time I walked in the door" at ASU.

"Getting the opportunity to meet him was something that was pretty special," Graham said.

White's son, Danny, starred for ASU from 1971 to 1973 before playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.

"He was just so gracious and kind," Graham said. "So obviously we want to make sure we let Danny and his family know that our thoughts and prayers are with them in this time of grief."

Extra points

  • Foster, who plays receiver in addition to running back, has gained 15 or 20 pounds this offseason, and will open camp at 195 pounds. He said the added weight will help him when "delivering more of a blow when I'm running the ball and getting those extra yards. It helps that I really didn't lose a step."
  • ASU's Taylor Kelly was one of 30 quarterbacks nominated to the Manning Award preseason watch list Friday.
  • Graham lost 30 pounds in the offseason. "It might not be very good for these guys," he said of his players, "because I'm not going to get tired as easily."

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley

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