I continue my wins comparison of select NCAA and NFL teams here with a 5Dimes betting matchup between the Arizona State Sun Devils, who should be a contender again in the Pac-12 South this season, and Arizona Cardinals. I can't say I have high expectations for them. Both teams are -115 on this prop.
Coach Todd Graham certainly has ASU on the rise. The Sun Devils played rival Arizona in the regular-season finale in 2014 for a spot in the Pac-12 title game opposite Oregon, but ASU lost 43-35 in Tucson. Thus, the Sun Devils had to settle for a spot in the Sun Bowl, in which they beat Duke 36-31. ASU finished 12th in The Associated Press Top 25, its highest season-ending ranking since 1996.
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Quarterback Taylor Kelly and leading receiver Jaelen Strong -- you may have noticed him on HBO's "Hard Knocks" as Strong was a third-round pick of the Texans -- are gone. But leading rusher and second-leading receiver D.J. Foster (194 carries, 1,081 yards, nine TDs; 62 catches, 688 yards, and three TDs) and quarterback Mike Bercovici return. Bercovici got plenty of playing time last season when Kelly was hurt, and Bercovici completed 61.8 percent of his throws for 1,445 yards, 12 TDs and four picks. There really should be no drop-off there. Bercovici has a big arm, so expect plenty of deep balls this year. He needs to stay healthy, however, because only freshmen are behind him.
And because ASU has good running back depth (Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage) but not at receiver (2014 third-leading receiver Cameron Smith will miss this season due to injury), Foster will transition to the latter position full time in 2015. I'm sure he will still run the ball on reverses and such. The team also added receiver Devin Lucien, a graduate transfer from UCLA. There are seven starters back on defense.
I would argue the Pac-12 is the nation's deepest conference this season, and ASU has a tough schedule to be sure. The Sun Devils open on Sept. 5 in Houston against Texas A&M in what's a neutral-site game in name only. The Aggies are 3-point favorites. ASU will cruise in its next two games, home to Cal Poly and New Mexico, before welcoming South Division favorite USC on Sept. 26. Then it's a trip to UCLA the following week. That's rough. Other road games are at Utah, Washington State and Cal, while ASU has tough home games vs. Oregon, Washington and Arizona.
Arizona State has a wins total of 8 at 5Dimes, with the "under" a -150 favorite. It is +430 to win the Pac-12 South and +900 for the conference title.
As for the Cardinals, just about every major preview I read about them expects a major regression from last year's 11-5 mark. For example, the Cards outscored foes by just 11 points last season, which generally projects to an 8-8 record for NFL teams. Football Outsiders' metrics ranked Arizona as the 22nd-best team in the league last season. ESPN gives the Cards a mean wins total of just 6.7 in 2015.
Obviously a ton this season depends on quarterback Carson Palmer staying healthy, but at his age and injury history I'm not sure it's realistic to expect 16 games out of him. The Cards haven't been able to run the ball in years and are so desperate running back they recently signed way-past-his-prime Chris Johnson. Arizona drafted David Johnson in the third round of this year's draft out of Northern Iowa. I keep expecting Andre Ellington to be a breakout star, but he can't stay healthy.
The offensive line has been a big reason why the running game has struggled, and already there's bad news there. Top free-agent signing Mike Iupati, a three-time Pro Bowler and terrific run blocker with the 49ers, is going to miss 6-8 weeks following knee surgery. Starting right tackle Bobby Massie is suspended the first three games of the season.
The defense should again be very good, although it lost coordinator Todd Bowles, who took the Jets' head coaching job. And that unit took a hit last week as well as starting tackle Corey Peters was lost for the season to an Achilles' tear. He was a free-agent addition from Atlanta.
Arizona has the fifth-toughest schedule in the NFL with an opponents' combined winning percentage of .557. There are seven games against 2014 playoff teams: Seahawks twice, at Lions, at Steelers, vs. Ravens (latter three in a three-week stretch), vs. Bengals and home to Green Bay. Plus the Cards are facing potential 2015 playoff teams in the Rams (twice), Saints, Vikings and Eagles. It's a monster schedule.
Here are 5Dimes' win totals for the Cards: 9.5 (over +179, under -217), 9 (+129/-149), 8.5 (-125/-105), 8 (-205/+173) and 7.5 (-273/+233).
I give Arizona State a likely ceiling of 10 regular-season wins with a floor of eight. I guess I'd go over that total listed above. As for the Cardinals, I think it only has a ceiling of 8. So go under that 7.5 number to be safe at +233. Take Arizona State on this prop.
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