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Arizona State Football: How Todd Graham Turned the Sun Devils into Winners

Robby BakerContributor IIIDecember 5, 2016

Arizona State Football: How Todd Graham Turned the Sun Devils into Winners

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    Todd Graham has turned the Sun Devils fortunes around.
    Todd Graham has turned the Sun Devils fortunes around.Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    The Arizona State Sun Devils are champions of the Pac-12 South and are one win away from playing in the Rose Bowl, thanks to the hard work of head coach Todd Graham.

    Graham has rejuvenated ASU's fanbase and has made Arizona State football relevant on the national stage.

    Just two years ago, the Sun Devils lost six of their last seven games and fired head coach Dennis Erickson.

    The future of Sun Devil football looked bleak. Then came Graham with his Texas accent and winning attitude.

    Fast forward to today.

    ASU is the Pac-12 South champion and favored to beat Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game. A team that recently went through a complete overhaul is now one win away from playing in the Rose Bowl.

    It's actually quite remarkable.

    Graham has changed the culture at Arizona State by implementing his own coaching staff, energizing ASU's fanbase, changing the program's expectations and attracting big-name recruits.

    If ASU can keep up that momentum, the sky's the limit.

    Arizona State University has all the resources to be a big-time college football program, and with Graham at the helm, that reality may not be far off.

    Here is a look at how Graham tranformed the Sun Devils into a winning program.

     

    * Stats and information from ESPN.com

New Coaching Staff

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    Todd Graham's staff has changed the culture surrounding ASU football.
    Todd Graham's staff has changed the culture surrounding ASU football.Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Former head coach Dennis Erickson inherited a Sun Devils team in 2007 with a decent amount of talent and won 10 games in his first season.

    Todd Graham inherited a team last year that was floundering for an identity and won eight games. Graham's decision to essentially overhaul the coaching staff has helped him win 10 games so far this season and has helped to change the identity and culture surrounding ASU football.

    The Sun Devils are now a team that expects to win championships and have become the most disciplined team in the Pac-12.

    Graham's decision to hire Mike Norvell as his offensive coordinator and Paul Randolph as his defensive coordinator has helped give ASU a true identity for the first time in a while.

    Norvell's high-octane offense has helped quarterback Taylor Kelly and running back Marion Grice garner national attention, as ASU's offense ranks among the top-10 in scoring in the country.

    Randolph's defensive schemes have made superstars out of players like Carl Bradford and Will Sutton, who would have gone unnoticed under previous regimes.

    Graham's decision to bring in his own people has helped make the Sun Devils one of the best-coached teams in the Pac-12 conference, and is a major reason why the Sun Devils are winners.

Energizing the Fanbase

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    Todd Graham has brought ASU fans out of the woodwork this past season.
    Todd Graham has brought ASU fans out of the woodwork this past season.Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Arizona sports fans are known for being some of the most fair-weather in all of sports and that holds true for the supporters of the Maroon and Gold as well.

    Todd Graham has energized Arizona State's fanbase, and it has helped his team on the scoreboard.

    ASU has only lost two games at home under Graham and is favored in this weekend's Pac-12 title game because of its home-field advantage.

    When Graham came to ASU, the fans didn't know exactly what they were getting. He had left Pitt fans with a sour taste in their mouths, and Sun Devil fans were afraid he'd pull the same trick on them.

    It appears, though, that Graham has helped to suppress those worries with his ability to reach out and connect with the Sun Devil faithful.

    Paola Boivin of Azcentral.com wrote how Graham went from hated in Pittsburgh to savior in Tempe:

    That’s when Graham, battered and bruised by national criticism for leaving Pittsburgh, met the media for the first time as the new head coach at ASU.

    The promises spilled out of his mouth.

    He would instill discipline in the program.

    He would reconnect with boosters.

    He would make the Sun Devils a contender in the Pac-12.

    Check. Check. Check.

    As Boivin notes, Graham talks the talk and his team is finally walking the walk. The fans are noticing and it's helping the team win.

Speaking Victory

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    Todd Graham's team has become defined by its discipline and heart.
    Todd Graham's team has become defined by its discipline and heart.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Just a few years ago, Arizona State was a team that lacked discipline and structure.

    Insert Todd Graham and the Sun Devils have suddenly become one of the least-penalized teams in college football.

    The major difference in Graham's team compared to previous ASU teams is in the way it prepares and carries itself.

    Graham has a very business-like approach to the game and expects nothing but the best from his players, who give it to him every game.

    If a player fumbles, don't expect to see him on the field for a while. It's not a punishment as much as it is a testament to what Graham stands for: Perform at your highest level or you won't see playing time.

    A perfect example of how Graham is a man of principle was when he benched star linebacker Carl Bradford down the stretch in the Oregon State game because he and Bradford got into a shouting match.

    It was a move that could have cost the team the game and, eventually, the Pac-12 South title, but Graham thought it was the right thing to do so did it.

    The players see these moves and have responded. The days of personal fouls, freelancing defenders and spotlight seekers are long gone.

    What remains is one of the most mentally tough and prepared football teams in the Pac-12.

Recruiting

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    Todd Graham has helped bring in big-name recruits over his two years at ASU.
    Todd Graham has helped bring in big-name recruits over his two years at ASU.Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

    Todd Graham has been a recruiting magician since he came to Tempe, and it's not just about landing high school studs.

    His real recruiting genius has come in his ability to attract the nation's best JUCO talent, like Marion Grice, Jaelen Strong and Marcus Hardison.

    At one point this season, Grice was a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and Strong was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list. Hardison has also come on late as a good pass-rusher on third-down situations.

    Graham has helped ASU gain more traction in California as well, recently landing two big-name prospects in Jalen Harvey and D.J. Cahloun. Both players were committed to other Pac-12 schools before switching to ASU.

    That sort of thing speaks volumes for the work Graham has done. Top recruits switching to come to ASU doesn't happen. ASU usually underachieves and losses recruits. It doesn't win the Pac-12 South title and bring in the best.

    With Graham, though, things are different. There's a different feeling around the program and around Tempe.

    Graham has used all his resources and changed ASU into a winning program that is now one win away from the Rose Bowl. This is just the start of what will be a beautiful relationship.

     

    Robby Baker is a B/R Featured Columnist. You can find his B/R archive and follow him @Robby__Baker.

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