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3 questions and a prediction for the Arizona State Sun Devils' 2016 football season

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Posted at 12:54 PM, Aug 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-03 01:52:00-04

It's safe to say expectations for Arizona State football are not high entering the 2016 season.

Most college football analysts predict this year's Sun Devil team won't win more than six games, and one expert even has them going 3-9, which would be their worst mark in 70 years.

Is the situation really that bleak? Let's dive a little deeper. Here are three questions for ASU football's 2016 season, which begins Saturday against NAU in a renovated Sun Devil Stadium.

1. Will ASU's new QB shine?

On Friday, ASU made it official: Manny Wilkins has received the starting quarterback nod. Wilkins, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder from Novato, California, was rated as one of the best dual-threat QBs in the nation coming out of high school.

The Sun Devils' other option was redshirt freshman Brady White, a highly-touted pro-style QB who chose ASU over offers from Oregon, Nebraska, Tennessee and a dozen other schools. He'll be available to step in if Wilkins struggles.

Both Wilkins and White are dripping with potential, but neither has ever started a college football game. Will new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey help ASU get the most out of Wilkins (or White, if the team's first choice falters)?

2. Will the offensive line hold up?

It won't matter much who ASU's QB is if he doesn't have time to throw. That brings us to the Sun Devils' offensive line situation. ASU will be without four of five starters from last year's line, and this year's group has made a combined 15 career college starts.

According to the Devils' depth chart, this year's starting offensive line includes three underclassmen: two sophomores and a redshirt freshman. Will the youth and inexperience of these linemen haunt the Sun Devils throughout the season?

3. Will the defensive backfield be any better?

The Sun Devils' secondary was burned early and often throughout 2015. ASU yielded a Pac-12-worst 337.5 passing yards per game last year and gave up 35 passing touchdowns, tied with Oregon for the most in the conference.

The good news is Kareem Orr, who led the Sun Devils with six interceptions last season, is back this year. But three of the four cornerbacks who played in at least 12 games for ASU last season are gone. Will new members of the secondary like running back-turned-cornerback De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes and senior transfer Bryson Echols be more effective than their predecessors were?

Prediction:

Sun Devil fans have several reasons to be hopeful entering the season. Demario Richard, one of the top rushers in the Pac-12, will return to the backfield. Five-star freshman wide receiver N'Keal Harry is an incredible weapon. Linebackers Salamo Fiso and D.J. Calhoun, who combined for 27.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks last season, are back.

Those are enough reasons why ASU should, at the very least, advance to its sixth consecutive bowl game. But any success beyond that depends primarily on the success of the quarterback and the O-line, and we just don't have a clue as to how both of situations will shape up.

But even if the Devils are better than they appear on paper, they'll face some tough challenges this season, especially in conference road contests against USC, Oregon and Washington. Home matchups against Utah, UCLA and Texas Tech won't be cakewalks, either.

Look for Graham's guys to surprise the doomsdayers but stop short of knocking on the door of another Pac-12 South championship.

7-5 overall, 4-5 Pac-12