Confidence inside a locker room is an indispensable attribute for champions at any level of sport. Every team strives to achieve this untouchable trait, but only a select few obtain and sustain this success.
Arizona State University is one football program that many national media pundits are tabbing as the trendy pick to represent the Pac-12 Conference’s South Division at the inaugural conference championship game.
Yet, the Sun Devils finished the 2010 season at home, watching other teams continue to compete and build confidence during the bowl season.
A team that compiled a 6-6 season record normally would not scream championship contender, but the Sun Devils envision a bright future. After all, countless and tireless hours went into the ASU athletic department’s re-branding effort dubbed “It’s Time.”
Perhaps to some, an aggressive marketing push by a relatively unpretentious football program is simply artful deception.
However, for members close to the Sun Devil program, this has been a journey complete with roadblocks, flat tires, tow trucks and more than one blown gasket by Dennis Erickson’s crew along the way.
After Erickson’s 10-win debut season in Tempe, fans in the valley instantly bonded with the journeyman coach. It was then, that many believed “It’s Time.”
Although, following a co-Pac-10 championship season, Erickson and his staff had to replace 26 departing seniors, including Rudy Burgess, Josh Barrett, Mike Pollak and Ryan Torain, among many others.
The results in 2007 brought renewed confidence to the Tempe campus, but Erickson maintained his original four-year plan.
Building the ASU program with a mix of both high school recruits and junior college transfers, the Sun Devils battled each week to remain in the national conversation. Somehow, one way or another, a disadvantageous play would inevitably strike up the opposing team’s marching band, while maroon and gold supporters were left wondering “What could’ve been?”
Week after week, game after game, it was inevitable. No one in attendance or on the field knew how each play would unfold, but in some fashion, the Sun Devils managed to throw the game away.
Confidence eluded ASU for the majority of the last three seasons. To this day, the 2008 Nevada-Las Vegas overtime loss stirs up demons.
The ‘09 road trip to Athens, Georgia, appeared auspicious until Mother Nature gathered up all the rain, thunder and lighting she could grab.
Once the weather took over, it was a matter of when, not if, ASU would be washed out to Arizona with a loss in hand.
Gut-wrenching and heartbreaking are words often used to describe Sun Devil football games. In 2010, that inclination continued for fans across the valley of the sun.
Look no further than the Sun Devils trip to Camp Randall Stadium on Wisconsin’s campus. A missed field goal on the opening drive began to script the conclusion of another horror film.
In fact, the ending was predictable. A converted extra-point by a Lou Groza award-winning kicker could have sent the game into overtime.
Then, it happened. The roar of the crowd echoed as the Sun Devils hopes were blocked, once again. A 20-19 defeat at the hands of one of the elite teams in the country is commendable, but this is football, not horseshoes.
ASU wrote the book on near misses and close calls. During the 2010 season alone, the Sun Devils lost five games by 20-combined points, including an 11-point loss to Oregon, with seven turnovers committed to boot.
But with any great team, a series of trials and tribulations must be vanquished.
Perhaps a 42-point drubbing of Washington State was the catalyst Sun Devil fans desired. Much of the talk leading up to that game revolved around Cougar fans believing a win was obtainable.
Maybe perceived competition and bulletin board material from the Pac-10 cellar dweller was the only motivation ASU needed.
Just when the atmosphere appeared to be changing, the late-game debacles were not in the rear-view mirror just yet.
ASU had yet to slay the mighty dragon, known simply as USC.
There is something about the uniforms, the live mascot, the band or even the elegant song girls, but the demons returned.
Special teams follies and ill-timed penalties plagued the Sun Devils in the L.A. Coliseum and a week later against Stanford and Andrew Luck.
A different type of luck has been absent on the Devils’ sideline lately, and the results were evident.
It was not until the UCLA Bruins raced to a 17-point lead before Brock Osweiler lit a fire in the squad.
Six total touchdowns, 647 passing yards and two emphatic victories later, Osweiler became a folk hero within Sun Devil Nation.
The biggest stat credited to Osweiler was his ability to protect the football. That alone will make the head coach happy, as well as the defensive teammates catching their breath on the sideline.
A confident quarterback exuding leadership at every turn, a smiling coach and a rested defense are all integral ingredients to a cooking up a national championship season.
But confidence is not built with one victory over Washington State or a nail-biting triumph over your bitter rival. The mentality of a champion is grown over time.
Each workout counts. Each practice has been completed with a purpose. The Sun Devils believe there are roses growing not too far to the west, but even the thought of taking home the crystal football at season’s end is in the cards.
Although the scorching summer days in the Arizona sunshine can be harsh on any growth, including a football team’s. But the seeds that Erickson planted three and four years ago are becoming a fully mature specimen on the football field.
This fall, when the temperature dips below triple digits, it will be time for the Sun Devil players, coaches and fans to enjoy the fruits of their labor.