With the Arizona State football team resting on a bye weekend, it felt fitting to assess the Sun Devils thus far. Certainly, the 2010 season has not unfolded as many expected, but there have been many encouraging signs for the future.
Although the Sun Devils have a 4-6 record, four of ASU's losses are by nine combined points. The competitive gap is closing for the Sun Devils and their foes in the top half of the conference.
But as the standings show, the Sun Devils still sit near the absolute bottom.
Interestingly enough, ASU Athletic Director, Lisa Love, commented and reaffirmed her stance on Dennis Erickson's future as head coach.
"You can put the rumors to rest" Love said. Dennis Erickson is the head coach for the remainder of the season and for the 2011 year.
That is the correct decision—and really the only decision—unless you are on the side of the fence that wants to see Erickson go, setting the program back to square one and back to 2006 again.
But you better believe, 2011 is an absolute "statement season." If Erickson falters in similar fashion as the past three, his time in Tempe will come to an end.
However, I don't see another below .500 season for the future. The talent level has elevated dramatically in the past two seasons, and it has shown on the field.
Names like Cameron Marshall, Jamal Miles, Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks will be heard for years to come. Offensively, the tools are present to compete for the upper echelon of the conference.
For once, the offensive line can compete with the best in the conference, but they are still learning to work as a unit.
Keep in mind, the mistakes and miscues on offense are occurring in the first season in Noel Mazzone's system. With another season of repetitions and continuity, the loose ends will be tightened up.
On defense, the athletes are flying to the ball from every position. ASU has tremendous speed, and that has always been a staple in Erickson's championship teams. Burfict, Magee and hopefully a healthy Shelly Lyons will anchor a more determined defense in 2011.
Lawrence Guy and Junior Onyeali, perennial All-Americans, return on defense to stop the run on the defensive line, as well as James Brooks, Jamarr Jarrett and Corey Adams.
The depth is forming in Tempe. It takes time to build a program and instead of playing young freshmen when they are not ready, now Erickson has the opportunity to red shirt players.
The learning process from high school to college is not as easy as fans want to believe. At the high school level, not every player is a college-level athlete. In the Pac-10, every offensive and defensive player is worthy of wearing his school's uniform.
For Arizona State next year, a small recruiting class will be ushered in. The class is small, because the Sun Devils only have 13 Seniors on their roster. Erickson will likely get 15 or 16 players in the 2011 recruiting class, and thus far, the Sun Devils have received eight verbal commitments.
Just last week Erickson received word from one of the best tight ends on the West Coast. Dillon Van der Wal, from Oaks Christian in Westlake, CA, committed to the maroon and gold. Van der Wal is 6'7" and will definitely be an increase in quality at a position of great need.
Also, don't forget about Josh Fulton, a tight end from last year's recruiting class, who is redshirting due to knee surgery. Fulton, when healthy, was an impact player with highlight-reel ability.
The tight ends next fall might be added in as a wrinkle in Mazzone's offensive scheme.
Recruiting has been a hot topic during the Erickson tenure. Many disgruntled fans feel he has fallen short in this area, but I beg to differ. Arizona is not as fertile as many believe or think it to be.
Erickson's staff has raided the "Golden State" for premiere talent that many other schools sought out. This recruiting cycle has continued that trend. Van der Wal was a big commit, as was Taft's quarterback, Michael Bercovici.
Although Bercovici is undersized, his arm does not fall short at all. The touch and accuracy from an incoming freshman is hard to find but not with the California signal caller. He might not get an opportunity for a few years, but that is how players develop in the system.
In the past, fans would look at recruiting lists and wonder which players will make and instant impact, but not anymore. The Sun Devils are returning 19 of their 22 starters from this season. Kerry Taylor will be the only player replaced on offense, and he is a receiver so it should not be too difficult.
And for the first time in a long time, all five offensive linemen will return. Each Saturday, as the starting lineups are being announced, the broadcasters mention how many consecutive starts the opposing line has made. Next season, for the first time since 2005, that team will be Arizona State.
So, as you sit back and enjoy football without another heartbreaking, last minute defeat, think about the positive surrounding the maroon and gold and know that eventually all the pain endured will turn into a major gain in the football progress in Tempe, AZ.