It seems as if the Arizona State football offense is just getting younger and younger. Over the offseason, they lost the majority of their run game and now the team’s most experienced running back is a sophomore. The receiving unit is made up of mostly juniors, which isn’t bad until two years from now when they’re all freshman. The group of quarterbacks is another worrisome situation, especially after Blake Barnett decided to transfer to the University of South Florida in April.
Star quarterback Manny Wilkins is a redshirt senior this season, meaning 2018 is his last year suiting up for the Sun Devils. He has been ASU’s starting QB since 2016, playing in all but two games during the past two seasons. That hasn’t left a lot of room for the rest of the QB squad to take some snaps.
I’m not trying to say the Sun Devils are done for if Wilkins were to go down this season for whatever reason, or even after he leaves. Not at all. I’m just looking at the sustainability of the root of their offense, especially when it seems they are losing experience in almost every other aspect of it.
If some horrific event were to take Wilkins out of the lineup at some point this season, ASU fans should not feel completely hopeless. Wilkins’ backup, Dillon Sterling-Cole, is a junior and did log a couple games in 2016. He was a highly-touted recruit who chose ASU over Texas A&M, Florida, UCLA, Oklahoma State, and others. However, the offense has changed quite a bit since then, especially coming into 2018 with a completely new coaching dynamic.
During those games, Sterling-Cole threw for 388 yards in 55 attempts, with an average completion percentage of 49.6. During spring practices, offensive coordinator Rob Likens spoke highly of Sterling-Cole’s confidence and his grasp of the offense, telling 247Sports it was “like night and day.”
Behind Sterling-Cole are two redshirt freshman, Ryan Kelley and Kevin Brown, and given Sterling-Cole’s 2019 senior status, they have just two short years to learn and gain what they can.
I’d feel much better about the future of this squad if Sterling-Cole was a sophomore perhaps. This would put him in 2019 as a starting junior, giving him more than just one year. Instead, the starting quarterback will most likely change three times in the next three years and that doesn’t typically come with a seamless transition even with the most talented guys under center.
In a somewhat ironic twist, while it does mean there will be a lot of turnover unless a younger guy wins the job after Wilkins’ tenure is done, the advantages of this seemingly disadvantageous position is something recognized by the best coaches in college. Picking the heir to a starter is likely the most scrutinized job a head coach has, and the possible choices exist on a spectrum: theoretical stability, or theoretical maturity? While fans seem to always be tempted by the prospects of getting the younger guy snaps so he can provide three to four years of service, the reality is there’s a reason it’s not the most common pick. After all, prior to Jalen Hurts, Nick Saban was famous for starting one-year senior game managers at quarterback and, while we hear more about freshman phenoms, experience and age more often wins out even in an age where young players are coming in more ready to see the field than ever.
In other words, if Tempe’s staff can create a fundamentally sound offensive room and focus on the defense — Herm’s specialty, after all — they just might be okay.