It's not going to take much for Todd Graham to start feeling scrutiny. A bad performance here, an onset of the same problems that plague Arizona State on way too many occasions, anything of that nature could set him back.
Thankfully, Week 1 is pretty much like a preseason game as ASU tries to get off on the right foot. Even if Arizona State is going through the motions of building a new identity and could be vulnerable, a Northern Arizona team that went 4-7 last season in FCS play doesn't figure to really pose a threat.
No, the big issues in this contest center around what Arizona State's identity will be offensively, and if they have the ability to really play the type of offense Graham is looking for. Can ASU work that two quarterback system effectively? Can they distribute the ball between all their playmakers without a let-up in the offensive tempo? Can they keep the opponent on the field?
Anything of that nature probably won't make the difference this week, but as time goes by those little things will make all the difference. So ASU better start getting everything in order before the real season begins.
SB Nation snippets
Ben Haber talks about things for ASU to do against Northern Arizona to ensure victory. Shutting down RB Zach Bauman is the first big step.
ASU won't shut down Bauman, but should be able to cause him problems. Expect the Devils to show four defensive linemen if Bauman starts giving them problems. Sun Devil defensive coordinator Paul Randolph has displayed a willingness to blitz. Therefore, ASU's D-line and linebackers must stay gap sound; otherwise Bauman will be off to the races.
The presence of Brandon Magee in the middle will be crucial; he is the leader of ASU's defense and a capable run stopper. While most of the time in 2012 ASU will sport six in the box, my recommendation for this NAU game is bringing at least seven, at times eight players up front. Facing Bauman will be a nice early season test for a run defense that will see plenty of good backs throughout Pac-12 play.
Brad Denny highlights some key matchups at House of Sparky. Here is one to watch to see how far ASU can go in the Pac-12 South.
- QB Taylor Kelly vs. NAU Secondary: Perceived by many as the "safe" quarterback choice, Kelly will need to show that he is more than just a "game manager" to hold onto the quarterback job. That means he'll need to make plays in the passing game, and in ASU's new offense, that means taking shots downfield. NAU has a very experienced secondary, and with his inexperienced receiving corps, this could be a challenge, but one to which Kelly must rise.