As the 2012 Pac-12 conference race heats up, Arizona State (4-1) comes off a bye week to take on the Colorado Buffaloes Thursday evening. The Sun Devils must be on guard for the proverbial “trap game,” as some ASU fans are already looking forward to next week’s critical match-up with the Oregon Ducks.
Coming into this year’s campaign, Colorado had the misfortune of losing all of their best players. Quarterback Tyler Hansen? Gone. Running back Rodney Stewart? Departed. Wide receiver Paul Richardson? Injured, and may or may not play this season. Nearly every skill position has a new face for 2012.
Jordan Webb, a transfer from Kansas who won only four of his 19 starts for the Jayhawks, takes over at quarterback. Webb did complete 63% of his passes at Kansas last season, and will provide some needed experience on the offense. But without any proven weapons to work with in Boulder, his skills may go to waste. At 6’5″, Tyler McCulloch is the most promising member of the Buffs’ receiving corp. Redshirt freshman Nelson Spruce has also shown some potential.
At running back, freshman Christian Powell has good size and strength. Tony Jones got two starts last year, and also figures to see plenty of action. Sophomore Malcolm Creer and walk-on Josh Ford add to the mix.
The Colorado defense has its share of ups and downs. The D-line allowed over five yards per rush last year, and returns only one starter in senior Will Pericak. Defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe has been an unexpected standout in the Buffs’ 4-3 alignment. The linebacker position appears relatively solid, thanks to starters Derrick Webb and Jon Major. The secondary features talented free safety Ray Polk, as well as improving strong safety Terrel Smith.
Arizona State’s season has been marked by strong defensive play, coupled with a steadily improving offense. Defensive lineman Will Sutton ranks second in the Pac-12 with 1.3 sacks per game. Sutton sacked Cal quarterback Zach Maynard three times in the Sun Devils’ 27-17 win at Berkeley, and no doubt has his sights set on Webb this week.
ASU starting running back Cameron Marshall remains a bit of an enigma. Marshall has scored four touchdowns in five games, but only rushed for 164 total yards. Questions about his health continue to arise. The good news: RBs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster have taken up the slack — and then some.
Nelson Spruce had a huge game for Colorado in Week 4 with eight receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown. He was less impressive a week later against UCLA. Spruce’s performance, along with the production of RBs Powell and Jones, will be key to Colorado’s hopes of defeating ASU.
DevilsInDetail.com Prediction: Arizona State: 34, Colorado: 14