What a difference a year makes.
At this point last year, there were countless questions surrounding the Arizona State football program and new head coach Todd Graham.
Tops on that list was who would emerge from the three-man quarterback competition to become the team's fifth different starter over the last five years. The competition came to a surprising end when Taylor Kelly, who many assumed to be running third amongst the trio, won the job.
Kelly then went on to have a largely successful season, throwing for 3,039 yards and 29 touchdowns, the second-highest total in program history. Kelly completed 67.1-percent of his throws, which set a school record for accuracy, and by season's end, had emerged as one of the top signal callers in the conference.
Heading into fall camp, there is no question as to who is the man at quarterback for the Sun Devils. However, that's not to say that the five weeks of camp won't provide interesting storylines to follow in the leadup to Sept. 5th's season opener against Sacramento State.
- RS Jr. Taylor Kelly: 6-foot-2, 203 pounds
- RS So. Michael Eubank: 6-foot-6, 246 pounds
- RS So. Mike Bercovici: 6-foot-1, 202 pounds
- RS Fr. Taylor Cohan: 6-foot-3, 193 pounds
- Danny Lewis
- Ryan Woods
The Starting Lineup: The streak is over.
Barring an injury, Kelly will become the first Sun Devil quarterback since Rudy Carpenter in 2008 to start consecutive season openers, snapping a string of five straight new starters.
Kelly's play in 2012 has now placed him in the upper-tier of Pac-12 quarterbacks along with Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley. Kelly initially won the job by showing the most ball security of the trio, but his playmaking savvy developed in a big way as the season progressed.
He showed sharp accuracy on the short-to-intermediate routes, a strong arm to make throws downfield, and proved to be elusive with his feet. Taking away sack yardage (which counts against a quarterback's rushing total in college football), Kelly's 690 net yards would have led the team, and his eight carries of 20 or more yards were tops on the team, besting dynamic running backs D.J. Foster and Marion Grice. ASU gained 37 first downs thanks to Kelly's running prowess.
Kelly's success is all the more remarkable considering the major struggles the team had at wide receiver. With no reliable threat on the outside or downfield, Kelly was still able to post one of the best single-seasons any Sun Devil quarterback has ever had.
However, there are plenty of areas in which Kelly can improve. He struggled under pressure, and his usually solid decision-making fell apart when he was repeatedly hit. All nine of his interceptions on the year came in ASU's five losses, with each of those teams being able to rattle Kelly with sustained pressure.
With a year of experience and growth in offensive coordinator Mike Norvell's system, as well as some talented newcomers at wide receiver, Kelly is poised to take the next step as one of the nation's top quarterbacks.
Camp Battle to Watch: Bercovici vs. Eubank
Kelly's ascension last year also mean that someone had to fall off the top of the depth chart, and that is what happened to Becovici, who entered fall camp as the No. 1 quarterback.
That bid was foiled by too many turnovers in fall camp, and he ultimately redshirted during the 2012 season.
Michael Eubank, the physical marvel and dynamic runner, earned time throughout the year in specific packages designed to take advantage of his size and power. He ran for 223 yards and four touchdowns while passing for 330 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Eubank's playing time did dwindle over the course of the season as Kelly emerged as the clear starter at the position.
During spring, Bercovici performed very well while Eubank continued to work on his passing game. While Bercovici is not the running threat that Kelly and Eubank are and the offense prefers, he has shown the ability to make all the throws and be accurate on the run.
With Kelly firmly entrenched as the every down player, the need for Eubank's packages is now in question. Whether Bercovici can carry over his hot spring performance—something he could not do last year—and take over Eubank's role as the
ASU is now in the fortunate position of having a star quarterback behind center who can lead them to a special year.
However, they are also one hit away from being forced into a situation far less optimistic. While both Bercovici and Eubank have the talent to lead the team to wins, they are not proven commodities.
Kelly's health will be crucial to the Sun Devils' chances at making at run at the Pac-12 South title. He took many unnecessary hard shots during runs and scrambles last year, and he will need to be smarter in those situations so that he can remain in the lineup to make the key plays for which he has quickly become known.
Overall Situation: 4 pitchforks out of 5
In Taylor Kelly, ASU has one of the best players at the position west of the Mississippi, and his appearance on a number of Heisman darkhorse lists is entirely warranted.
He still has much to prove in terms of playing consistently in the face of top competition, but he showed a maturing dual-threat game, with enough moments of clutch playmaking, to make every Sun Devil fan excited to see what he can do in Year 2.
Should he stay healthy and get some help from the new weapons at wide receiver, ASU will be a strong contender in the Pac-12 South.