Any last-gasp hopes of reaching a postseason bowl game were lost at the Rose Bowl Saturday night. Arizona State's loss to the UCLA Bruins also ensured the Sun Devils of their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1946-47.
So how do Dennis Erickson's Sun Devils keep on building towards the future?
Well, before we look forward, the mistakes and weaknesses that have marred the Sun Devils the past two seasons have to be addressed.
First and foremost, the penalty situation, although not a big issues this Saturday (nine penalties for 62 yards), in the past has stalled offensive drives and put the Sun Devil defense in some tough spots.
The last two seasons, Erickson's bunch has finished the season 112th or higher in penalties against. This season, Arizona State is dead last in the country in terms of yards against per game.
To be successful offensively or defensively, the penalties must kept in check, and the team must be accountable for their play on the field.
Secondly, this season, the Sun Devils did not have a quarterback. The old saying goes, "If you have two good quarterbacks, you don't have a quarterback."
Well, this season Erickson chose senior Danny Sullivan to be his engineer, or as he called Sullivan, his "game manager." For the Sun Devils, managing the game against big-time opponents just didn't cut it in the Pacific Ten. The picture was starting to get clearer that ASU didn't have a quarterback this season.
Thus, the fans all around Tempe voiced their displeasures about Sullivan, and their wish was granted. Erickson pulled Sullivan in the second half of their game against USC—enter true freshman Brock Osweiler. Although Osweiler was flashy and showed signs of promise, a shoulder injury and lack of experience led to his demise.
Then Erickson really had no one else to turn to but Samson Szakacsy, a former USC commit. Once again, Szakacsy energized the offense with his mobility and ability to throw on the run, which earned the Southern California native a start Saturday in the Rose Bowl.
However, as fans found out, a quarterback can't sit on the sidelines during practice for the better part of three seasons and then turn a team's season around. Szakacsy showed his inexperience in pressure situations and his lack of awareness when defenders hit him. Szakacsy threw one interception and fumbled while being sacked by UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price, both resulting in touchdowns for the Bruins.
I do think that Szakacsy will get the start against Arizona this upcoming Saturday, but I would not rule out the possibility of Erickson letting Sullivan start in his last home game.
But that brings up the point about building for the future. The Sun Devils have unfortunately written their fate for the season, and that is a bowl-less season once again.
I think the right move, with the program's best interests in mind, would be to start either Szakacsy or Osweiler against the Arizona Wildcats. Yes, Sullivan is a senior, and he did give four years of his life to Arizona State, but after Saturday night, Sullivan is done and has no more eligibility left.
I say start Szakacsy to let him learn and go through the growing pains against a solid U of A defense at home. The future for Arizona State football is now. The season was a disappointment, but there is still one game to play, one game to evaluate the returning talent, and one game to eliminate the mistakes that have wrecked the Sun Devils the last two seasons.
Let us remember that this season on paper did not turn out the way fans had envisioned it to be, but there are some bright spots about the Arizona State football team moving forward.
The running game has improved, slowly but surely, and with that improvement, you have to give credit to the offensive line. The ASU offensive line was decimated by injuries all season, and with positions needing to be filled, everyone who was called upon answered and performed admirably.
In terms of the Arizona State defense, well, the Sun Devils might finish with the top ranked defense in the conference, barring another Oregon or Stanford-like blowout at the hands of in-state rival Arizona.
With young talent returning in the likes of Vontaze Burfict, Lawrence Guy, and Deveron Carr, every single level of the defense has an established leader to nurture the young talent that Erickson brings in with recruiting this offseason.
But the bottom line moving forward is the quarterback situation has to be reevaluated during the offseason. It is unfortunate that the front runner for that spot, Michigan transfer Steven Threet, cannot suit up and have a virtual tryout against Arizona Saturday night.
The game against U of A should be a momentum builder for a program that is on a five-game losing streak. The Sun Devils would like nothing more than to knock off the Arizona Wildcats and create a leg up on their rivals to the south in recruiting.
The future of Arizona State football begins today.