TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 24: Cameron Marshall #6 of the Arizona State Sun Devils celebrates a touchdown with the fans against the University of Southern California Trojans at Sun Devil Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona. Arizona State won 43-22. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Accountability is one of those coach-speak buzzwords that gets bandied about with regularity. But for a team over 100 yards more than the next most flagged in all college football, emphasis on accountability is more than just rhetoric.
The enduring image of Dennis Erickson's tenure might be supremely talented linebacker Vontaze Burfict sitting out the final quarter of last season's season finale loss to Cal. A win would have salvaged a disappointing final month by ensuring ASU its first above-.500 finish since 2007, but the Sun Devils unraveled down the stretch. Part of that was Burfict's two personal fouls on a single Golden Bear scoring drive.
Todd Graham came to Arizona State tasked with erasing that image of Sun Devil football. That process has started with off-field changes, like players wearing blazers on game day, restriction of jewelry in team facilities and a return to Frank Kush-era pre-season home Camp Tontazona.
"The key is to embrace the discipline," Graham said at Pac-12 Media Day.
ASU is entering 2012 with much different expectations than those heaped on the 2011 Sun Devils. A popular choice to win the Pac-12 South, ASU's 6-6 regular season finish was a resounding disappointment. Compounding that disappointment is that five of those six defeats were by a combined 27 points -- less than a touchdown per game on average.
Linebacker Brandon Magee said the disciplinary problems proved critical in ASU being a sub-.500 team and one that could have played for a Rose Bowl berth.
"Last year, the little things were a big problem," he said. "With coach Graham implementing discipline in everything we do and accountability, that will fix those mistakes.
"We have been one of the worst team in the nation in terms of getting penalties," Magee added. "Coach stressed how unacceptable that is and he won't tolerate penalties. That will help us a ton to reach the potential we actually have."
A fearsome defense on paper, the Sun Devils' penchant for penalties was a contributing factor to an underachieving 28 point per game yield.
Magee returns from injury that kept him out all of last season to lead this year's defense. In 2010, he was the Sun Devils' second leading tackler with 73, including five for loss. His acclimation back to football shape will also entail shaking off the rust from missing spring ball.
Another top Sun Devil also was absent from spring workouts, running back Cameron Marshall. Marshall had surgery on an ankle that plagued him throughout 2011.
"I feel great," Marshall said of the ankle. "Running around, doing all the drills. When I enter camp, I'll be 100 percent."
Marshall is one of the top running backs in a conference loaded with them. He rushed for 18 touchdowns last season to tie an ASU single season record, and should become an even bigger part of the offense while a new starting quarterback settles in.
Former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone ran an uptempo scheme that called on quarterback Brock Osweiler to air the ball out 527 times -- more than 100 more than Sun Devils rushed. A change in coaches should mean a change in that pass heavy philosophy.
Tulsa was balanced in 2010 throwing 469 times and rushing 537, Mike Norvell's final season on the staff there. He joined Graham at Pittsburgh as co-offensive coordinator and their Panther team rushed 518 times to 426 passes.Logic would then dictate Marshall will see an increased workload from his 230 carries of a season ago.
The consistency Marshall brings will be a much needed pillar amid turnover on offense. In addition to the three-man race for starting quarterback duties, the line lost All Pac-12 performer Garth Gerhart and the receiving corps replaces Gerell Robinson and Aaron Pflugrad.
Turnover might make Graham's mission of reshaping the Sun Devils' identity easier.