One year ago, Arizona State fans were already looking ahead to the 2010 season—sitting at 4-6 on the season and their bowl hopes lost.
Now fans have the same distaste they did just a year ago, amidst a young Sun Devil squad that has been so close, yet so far from success.
At this point in the season, just like in 2009, the Sun Devils have only raked in wins against two FCS teams and Pac-10 wins against Washington and Washington State.
The similarities are there if you compare the record, but this season has been about "what almost was"—unlike the previous.
This 2010 Arizona State team is closer to a 9-1 record than almost any other team in the country while sporting one of the toughest strengths of schedules in the nation.
The Sun Devils have played three top-10 teams this season in Wisconsin, Oregon, and Stanford—losing by a combined 16 points. All three of these teams met their match with Arizona State, but underlying mistakes on the field cost the Sun Devils huge upset wins.
Let's trace back to the game at No. 10 Wisconsin, a contest decided by one point.
If not for a blocked extra-point attempt in the remaining few minutes of the game due to a missed block and poor judgment on a late hit by ASU on Wisconsin's final drive, the game could have had a different outcome.
Just one week after Wisconsin, the Sun Devils hosted the-then No. 5 Oregon Ducks.
Do not let the final 42-31 score fool you, as the Sun Devils outgained the nation's No. 1 offense in every offensive category, while limiting the Ducks to season lows. That game at Sun Devil Stadium was an upset in the making, but was ruined by quarterback Steven Threet's four interceptions in the red zone.
Fast forward to No. 6 Stanford traveling to the Arizona State confines in a game decided by four points.
The game was back and forth as the the unranked Sun Devils yet again stayed in the game against a top-10 opponent.
The game decider? A bad call on ASU's Vontaze Burfict for a facemask—later deemed a wrong call days later by the Pac-10)—that led to Burfict getting an unsportsmanlike conduct call for arguing with the officials.
Although Burfict's emotions were justified, his actions were not, as Stanford moved inside the 10-yard line and scored the winning touchdown.
Aside from these three opponents, Arizona State lost by three points to Oregon State, by one point at USC and by 33 in a dreadful loss at California.
All this being said, the only game that ASU should have lost was against California—every other loss was a result of the Sun Devils beating themselves.
These explanations are not valid excuses for another losing season, but rather to express that fourth-year head coach Dennis Erickson has the Sun Devils on the right track.
Not many teams can put three top-10 teams on upset alert in one season—in fact, not many teams even play three top-10 opponents in one season.
The improvement upon the last two seasons is clearly there, but success seems just out of reach this season.
Arizona State has two games remaining at home against UCLA, and an always hard-fought rivalry game at Arizona.
If the Sun Devils win out, they will finish at 6-6 with the possibility of reaching a bowl in front of a 5-7 team; ASU's record for bowl eligibility is 5-6 since only one FCS win is counted.
All this being said, is Arizona State the best losing team in the country?
If they aren't, then they are pretty darn close.
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