Arizona State: Another Offseason of Question Marks, Hopefulness, Change

Kristian SiutaCorrespondent IIJuly 27, 2010

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 19:  Omar Bolden #3 of the Arizona State Sun Devils celebrates after a 59 yard touchdown on a kick off return against the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks during the college football game at Sun Devil Stadium on September 19, 2008 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

During the past four seasons, the “valley of the sun” has been drenched with optimism and hopefulness regarding the Sun Devil’s football program. However, the results at the end of the season have left fans with something to be desired. Now, with preseason camp ready to commence on August 4th , the buzz swarming around the ASU campus consists of one word: questions.

Once again, heading into fall camp, the Sun Devils have numerous question marks up and down the roster, and inside the coaching staff as well. The bottom line at the end of the year will be a very telling story on whether the program continues to grow towards their lofty goals and expectations, or on the other side of the coin.

The athletic department might choose to go in a new direction, with a completely new staff.  The pressure is on the 2010 Sun Devils to win, and win now. 

Following last season’s awful 4-8 finish, improvement is an absolute must, and this fall seven wins will be necessary to reach a bowl. Due to the fact that Arizona State is playing Northern Arizona and Portland State, (both Championship Sub-Division teams), the NCAA only recognizes, or counts one win against a Division 1-AA squad per season.

Although before fans start chalking up potential victories, this ASU squad needs to take shape and find their identity as a unit.

Since the beginning of the 2008 season, the Arizona State Sun Devils have been a team divided, a struggling offense paired with a stout defense. That division caused infighting and jawing between players from both sides of the ball, not only during practice, but also inside the facility, and especially when the games turned sour on Saturdays.

Obviously a locker room that is divided will never turn out positive for anyone, but this fall a feeling of rejuvenation and new beginnings has hopefully closed the book on the lackluster offensive showings of years past.

Erickson’s squads needs to come together as one, achieve their goals as a team, an offensive unit, defensive unit, and the tough special team performers. The Sun Devils will win as a team and lose as a team. A team that is divided, is a team that finishes at the bottom of the conference.

On August 4, 2010, Dennis Erickson will open up camp in Tempe, AZ and begin fitting the pieces together and trying to form the nucleus of a Pacific Ten Conference contending team. Everyone knows about the defense with the highlight reel performers, but the question still is in the hands of the offense.

Fortunately for coaches, players, and fans, the offense this fall will be a complete 180-degree change from last fall, at least in terms of formations and style. The scoring output and production is still up in the air, and will not be tested until September 18th in Madison, Wisconsin.

One big question still remains: who will start for Arizona State at quarterback? After having extensive one on one experience from 2006-2010 with past Sun Devil quarterbacks: Sam Keller, Rudy Carpenter, and Danny Sullivan among others, last Fall was a pitfall when examining the production of that imperative position. Unfortunately, spectators, coaches, and players realized that Danny Sullivan was not a quarterback that could compete at the elite level in college football.

Now, this season with Steven Threet, Brock Osweiler, and Samson Szakacsy competing for the starting nod, all of the aforementioned athletes will have to prove naysayers otherwise. Although proving their worth to their teammates will be the first step. 

Although, with the new spread offense installed by Noel Mazzone, the quarterbacks cannot make mistakes like they did in the past. No throwing into coverage, no hoping for the best on deep passes, no holding on to the football-waiting for receivers to make plays. That will not cut it this season.

The offense revolves around timing and getting the ball into the athletes’ hands. If you were paying attention, an offense revolving around timing, should inevitably cut down on the sacks as well!

A word that gets thrown around a lot in football forums is leadership. Arizona State does not have a great field general of yesteryear like Jake Plummer, Rudy Carpenter, or Jeff Van Raaphorst on this year’s team, but then again, none of the quarterbacks on the roster have had the opportunity to exude the poise or team captain attributes necessary of guiding a championship team. Threet, Osweiler, and Szakacsy have only combined to start 11 games in their careers.

The offense is still at the “wait and see” stage, due to a lot of unknown players at receiver, running back, and tight end among other areas.

However, one thing that Dennis Erickson has achieved at ASU has been attracting talented skill position high school players and junior college transfers to bring their talents and abilities to the desert.

Although many media outlets enjoy grading recruiting classes as soon as the commitment lists and letter of intents are made final, the true evaluation of a recruiting class comes when recruits turn into college football players on Saturday nights.

Taking a “wait and see” approach to this squad is not a bad idea at all. The players on this ASU squad will have to prove to themselves on the practice field, before the fans in Sun Devil Stadium will approve.

The core players on this year’s roster are Erickson recruited players, only a handful remain from the Dirk Koetter days, and this season the mantra for the Sun Devils has to be “prove everyone wrong”.

The preseason polls around the country are slowly being published, and Arizona State is receiving little, to no respect from most. Many pundits figure the Sun Devils to finish in the lower half of the Pacific Ten Conference, although that is due to past results on the field, coupled with the fact that not many writers and so-called experts know much about this year’s team.

For Dennis Erickson and the Sun Devils, the thought of no one giving ASU any respect, should place a huge chip on every player, coach, and staff member’s shoulder, to prove every team of the Pacific Ten and college football world wrong.  

Then again, Arizona State has not received much respect or preseason acknowledgment in recent seasons, and in turn ended up watching the bowl games instead of participating in them. In 2010, fans in the desert will be hoping that a change in attitude, will result in a positive change in victories.