Rodriguez vs. Graham: Road To Desert Resurrection
By John Baker
Tood Graham and Rich Rodriguez arrived at Arizona State and Arizona, respectively, a year ago looking to build on what had been pretty successful careers.
However, each had a little baggage with them that needed to be unpacked and, with the help of their new schools, put away for good.
Rodriguez arrived at the Arizona campus looking for redemption after a fairly negative run at the University of Michigan. The offensive juggernaut he'd built at West Virginia, and which had helped him land the Michigan job, turned out to be harder to replicate in Big 10 country.
Graham arrived at Arizona State with something of a question mark behind his name after having spent one season at Pittsburgh following a stellar career at Tulsa. His quick trigger on a new job raised eyebrows and questions.
Rodriguez vs. Graham in the battle to bring the 'Zonas to national prominence. Both have glittering resumes, both have plenty of success under their belts and both have a big task in making Arizona and Arizona State legitimate contenders not only for Pac-12 glory, but for national honors.
Who has the better opportunity this season? Todd Graham.
If Arizona had Matt Scott back for another run, you'd like the Wildcats through the air and on the ground as long as KaDeem Cary matures into the Heisman contender his monster 2012 season begs for. But he doesn't have that. After NIck Foles and Scott put up such wonderful numbers at the quarterback position in recent seasons, a newcomer will be asked to master what is still a very complicated offense. Scott could run, so he offered that dual threat consistency Rodriguez and his offense need. But the newcomers, some of whom are blessed with ability, are green, greener and greenest. Couple this with the continued rebuilding of a defense that gave up more than 30 points in nine games a year ago and you see the issue. A green quarterback, a rebuilding defense and the struggle for Pac-12 respectabiity continues. Don't think for a moment that the Wildcats' defense won't affect its offense, and until proven otherwise, should be viewed as a liability to a new quarterback trying to get a handle on Rodriguez's complicated offensive schemes.
Sweet, sweet Sun Devils
At ASU, many of those worries simply aren't there. The Sun Devils welcome back quarterback Kelly Taylor, fresh off finishing second in the Pac-12 in total offense in 2012. He threw for 3,000, rushed for another 500 and accounted for 30 touchdowns in his first season in Graham's offense. He looks to be even more potent and certainly will be in the league's upper echelon of quarterbacks. Additionally, the Sun Devils bring back Marion Grice, who was an interesting cat himself a season ago. He rushed for nearly 700 yards and 11 scores, but really popped the cork out of the offensive bottle with another 41 catches and eight scores in the passing offense. He returns, as does talented D.J. Foster and the quicksilver runningback/receiver Jamal MIles. In short, the Sun Devils have an offense that the Wildcats simply can't match across the board and a defense that got a return of an NFL-ready player in defensive tackle Will Sutton. Sutton solidifies a defense that was young in 2012, but ready to be a force in 2013. In short, the Sun Devils' defense should offer much more help to its offensive brethren than can be expected by the Wildcats.
Todd Graham is far better situated to make a big leap forward with his 2013 version of the Sun Devils. Rodriguez needs to find his quarterback for the next few years and get the defense retooled from laughingstock to lock-down. Right now, Graham has the advantage and should have a much better season in 2013 than his counterpart at Arizona.