With so much riding on the new regime of Arizona State Sun Devil football, coach Todd Graham is well on his way to bringing respectability back to the desert.
In 2011, when the team started 6-1 overall and 4-1 in conference, the Sun Devils were nationally ranked at No. 19 in the BCS poll and looked like they had the Pac-12 South crown all but wrapped up since USC was serving a postseason suspension. Then came the implosion—four straight losses to teams with losing records and an embarrassing display in the Las Vegas Bowl getting demolished by Boise State in front of a national audience.
A new dawn has come, and the Devils will claim the Pac-12 South. Here are seven reasons to believe.
One of the most regarded and heavily recruited players in Arizona high school history, D.J. Foster decided to stay home and play for the Sun Devils. He averages 5.74 yards per rush with two touchdowns and 15.77 yards per reception with three touchdowns.
He is the consummate all-around athlete who will take ASU higher and higher this year and in the future.
The joy of recovering a fumble on Oregon's first drive last week quickly turned to concern when standout defensive lineman Will Sutton had to be helped from the field.
ASU currently leads the Pac-12 in total defense and ranks first nationally against the pass, but its rushing defense is suspect. With their top run-stopper on the sidelines, things could get ugly fast, and they did. Oregon went on to rush for 406 yards, and that is with Chip Kelly resting his starters.
The good news is that Sutton has been at practice and is progressing and will lead the Devils in the coming year to cement a great defense.
There is a lot to be said for tradition.
In portions of the country where there are no professional sports, children are brought into this world with the sole reason of dressing them in the gear of their school of choice. The schools with long and storied histories as well as rich traditions tend to have more of a commitment to the past, present and future of the team and school.
This is something that had been missing and was brought back by new coach Todd Graham. Graham returned the team to practice at Camp Tontozona and began a new tradition called the "Devil Walk" leading the team from Wells Fargo Arena into the stadium.
After starting the season 6-2 and 4-1 in conference, the Sun Devils were ranked No. 20 in the AP poll, No. 18 in the USA Today coaches' poll and No. 19 in the all-important BCS standings.
All they needed to do was win one or maybe two games against teams that all had records under .500 and they would represent the South in the Inaugural Pac-12 Championship. They lost four straight and were decimated in the Las Vegas Bowl. With the new regime, culture and attitude, everybody knows that they need to return to the championship game to prove that they are worthy.
The Oregon Ducks destroyed Arizona State last Thursday in front of 70,000-plus fans and even more as it was broadcast on ESPN. After scoring the initial touchdown of the game, Oregon scored the next 43 points...all before halftime.
If it wasn't for Oregon coach Chip Kelly replacing his starters, it would have been a lot worse. This game will stick in their craw as a low point in their season, a sheer disaster in front of a sold-out crowd at home, and they cannot wait to return the favor in Autzen for the championship game.
USC is no longer on suspension, so it seems odd that I am discrediting the No. 9 team in the country in stating that ASU will win the South and not USC—oh well.
With such a daunting schedule, I see the Trojans taking a big hit in the rankings, if the Devils have anything to say about it. With five remaining games, I see them losing three of them and finishing 8-4 overall and 6-3 in conference. While looking at ASU's remaining schedule, I see them winning four of five, finishing 9-3 overall with a 6-3 conference record and holding the tiebreaker.
Discipline, honor, character and integrity are all things that this football program has lacked and are all things that Todd Graham has brought with him and instilled in this team.
Forget about all the offseason hullabaloo about Graham being about as stable as a window on a submarine, Graham is the real deal, and he is here to stay and will take the Devils far and deep into the future.
I remember thinking the same thing right about this time last year, but I believe that everything has changed. I don't put it out of the realm of possibility that Arizona State will win the South, the Pac-12 and even the Rose Bowl.
Follow me on twitter at @asudave.