Pac-12 football fans get early peek at UA, ASU squads

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                </div>  Hang in there, college football fans. Pac-12 play doesn’t begin for another 128 days, when Arizona State opens the 2014 season by hosting Weber State.  And University of Arizona […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Hang in there, college football fans.

Pac-12 play doesn’t begin for another 128 days, when Arizona State opens the 2014 season by hosting Weber State.  And University of Arizona fans will have to wait an extra day before their team welcomes UNLV to Arizona Stadium on Aug. 29.

But fortunately, 15,556 anxious supporters had a chance to get a temporary ‘fix’ at this year’s spring games.  The 8,456 that showed up at Sun Devil Stadium set a new attendance record as the school rolled the game into a carnival-like event called Fan Fest.

The Sun Devils, under the watchful eye of third-year head coach Todd Graham, wrapped their annual scrimmage over the weekend.  Arizona’s program is also being directed by a head coach in his third year of trying to turn that program around and Rich Rodriguez ran his new squad through their spring game the week prior.

These early off-season practice periods aren’t going to tell much about the actual state of the programs since the players haven’t had time to get into the kind of physical condition they will need to be in in the fall, and many of next season’s incoming players haven’t yet arrived on campus.  But they give fans an opportunity to begin bonding with their teams and getting a free peek at what’s ahead for the new season.

Both teams run a hurry-up style of offense and Rodriguez seemed to be more pleased with where his boys were performing in that regard.  He said the tempo in the spring practices had been good.  “I think our guys are used to that; that hasn’t been an issue at all,” he shared with the media.  “(But) in the fall, we will have to be in better shape.”

Graham, whose 2013 squad won the South Division of the Pac-12 Conference, said he felt “the tempo was way too slow” and admitted there was much work to be done before the season opener.  “But I was very pleased with the competition,” he noted.  “I love this team and love the character.  We had a great spring.”

He has made it very clear that the team’s goals are higher than just a division title in the coming season.  “Our program is about one thing, and this is winning championships.  Anything less than being Pac-12 champions is less than acceptable.”

The coach’s confidence stems in large part from the fact that he has a third-year starter returning under center to provide the leadership and ability at the key position needed to make a legitimate run at a championship.  In the spring game, Taylor Kelly completed just seven of 22 pass attempts for 92 yards, but showed a steady command of the game and displayed some of the other attributes that make him effective.

Rodriguez’s situation is just the opposite.  He has a boatload of quarterback candidates – seven, to be exact – hoping to fill the void left by the graduation of Matt Scott.  (See 4/7/14 phxfan article: “RichRod sifting through pile of QBs before UA spring game”)

Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, a four-star prospect from Bishop Gorman High School in Nevada, stepped to the front of the pack in the spring game, throwing for 74 yards and two touchdowns.  But the local favorite who left the state to spend a year with the University of Texas program was right on Solomon’s heels. Connor Brewer from Chaparral High School in Scottsdale completed 8-of-12 for 71 yards and a pair of TDs.

But Graham’s biggest challenge won’t be on the offensive side of the ball.  He has to fill the ranks to replace nine starters from a very good defensive unit last season.  He and his staff are busy now trying to make the adjustments in their system to take advantage of the skill sets the incoming players will bring to the party.

So there could be a dozen or so new players that will have to step in and make a major contribution to Graham’s quest for that conference championship.

“The biggest thing, if you ask me, would be transitioning our newcomers,” said Graham in addressing his concerns at this point in the off-season.  “We have a tremendous class of guys coming in and we pride ourselves on being able to transform them very quickly.

“That’s probably going to be the biggest thing – transitioning the guys that aren’t here.”

That’s OK, coach, you’ve still got 128 days to get it done.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)