Omar Bolden’s return boosts ASU football 2011 title hopes

The latest vote of confidence for Arizona State football just came in.

Omar Bolden, ASU’s junior cornerback who has been mulling entering the NFL draft, has decided to return to the Sun Devils for one more year.

And that says volumes about the expectations in Tempe.  Bolden was projected to be a third- or fourth-round pick.

This decision by the unanimous First Team All Pac-10 selection is perhaps the most significant since ASU Vice President of Athletics Lisa Love surprised the local fan base by announcing she would return Dennis Erickson to the sidelines for the 2011 season.

That was in mid-November when the Sun Devils were a 4-6 team, struggling to avoid a third consecutive losing season.  Erickson still had another year on his contract and Love elected to give him that extra time because she, too, could see the potential in the program.

Although they finished 6-6, the Devils played toe-to-toe with just about every team on their schedule, including three teams ranked in the national Top 10.  And beat rival Arizona in the annual Duel in the Desert.

They have a pair of game-tested quarterbacks in Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler that combined to make the ASU passing game (286 yards per) the 14th best in the country, and return all five on the starting offensive line and nine starters on defense.

Cameron Marshall, who picked up a couple of 100-yard rushing games last season, will be a senior.  And Deantre Lewis, who had three straight 100-yard receiving games, will be a seasoned junior.

They did a lot last season with a very young team.  But the upside to that is they will lose just two senior starters.

And there was some additional news in the past month that will have a bearing on the fortunes in 2011.

Junior defensive tackle, Lawrence Guy, made a different decision than Bolden and announced he would enter the NFL draft.  The 6’5″, 300-pound Las Vegas product was a fearsome pass-rushing force for the Devils and helped build the second-ranked defense in the Pac-10 this year.

That puts a couple of significant holes in the D-line, following the graduation of the other starting tackle, Sai’a Falahola.  But Erickson has been rotating as many as six different players into the tackle slot during the season, so the losses won’t be crippling.

On the flip side, the Devils got some renewed interest from Christian Westerman, the huge offensive lineman from nearby Hamilton High School in Chandler.  Westerman, considered by many to be the nation’s top prospect at his position, has de-committed from Texas and re-opened the recruiting process in mid-December.  ASU is reportedly on his short list.

With Bolden’s decision to return, it makes ASU a good bet to compete for the Pac-12 title next year.

He had a disappointing season in 2008 and missed most of 2009 from a fluke injury suffered in practice.  Due to that, he was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA – and he’s decided to use it.

But 2010 was his break-out season, as he accounted for 52 tackles and three interceptions and was a vocal team leader.  He also scored a defensive touchdown and returned a kickoff for 97 yards and a TD against Wisconsin.

It was a painful month-long process for the kid from Ontario, Calif., as he sought out advice from parents, coaches, and friends.  He finally made the call to return to ASU and announced it in a press conference yesterday.

He said he hasn’t been to a bowl game since his freshman year and felt that next year’s edition would make that post-season trip again.  He said he thinks that team will “have the chance to do something special.”

He sounds pretty confident about what his ASU team can accomplish next year.

“I’m ready to bring that Pac-12 Championship back to Tempe.”

(Photo: ASU Athletics/Alex Ryan)