ASU Football: The Sun Devils, Green Day & 90s Punk: The Pressure of Expectations

Brad DennyContributor IMay 31, 2011

With society's ears still ringing from the thrashing sound of aggression that was Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the barrier between hard rock and pop success was trampled in mosh-pit fashion in 1991.

With that wall no longer present, major labels rushed to find the next hard-rock phenomenon, signing metal and punk bands by the bushel in the following years. 

These bands, having most recently measured success by how many dozens of pierced and unwashed fans they could fit into to the local punk clubs, were suddenly being given millions of dollars along with the corresponding pressure of creating the next Nevermind

It was a combination that would result in the dissolution of numerous bands, with only a few surviving and even fewer achieving stardom.

The Arizona State football team is now facing that kind of pressure.

After toiling in mediocrity for the past few seasons, a young and talented Sun Devil team exceeded expectations, albeit meager ones, in 2010. 

Their pedestrian 6-6 record was deceiving, as they made major strides. Young players gained valuable experience, many of whom are now on the cusp of collegiate stardom.  This has all set the stage for a 2011 season rife with pressure.

The optimism for an ASU breakthrough has not been limited to the Sun Devil players and fans.  The national media has quickly begun to hop on ASU's bandwagon in droves. 

The Devils have appeared on many pre-season Top 25 lists, and Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel even picked them as a sleeper national championship contender.

Like ASU, those punk bands from the early 1990s went from also-ran to "the next big thing" almost overnight.  

Their fates varied greatly.  Most, like punk legends Jawbreaker, failed miserably once thrust upon the big stage.  However, a few, most significantly Green Day, were able to handle the pressure of expectations and thrived in the spotlight.

Will the Sun Devils be able to succeed with the pressure of such lofty expectations and top the college football charts?  Or will they succumb and leave the ASU faithful feeling like they’ve just spent a season in the mosh pit?

Both potential outcomes have compelling cases.

Why ASU Will Fail – The Jawbreaker Outcome

“The day is done but I don’t think I got it right” 

 Formed in 1986, Jawbreaker began a successful run on the indie scene, whose emotionally charged punk rock gained fans nationwide (including Kurt Cobain) and inspired countless other bands. 

Relocating from New York to the same San Francisco scene that launched Green Day, Jawbreaker released three successful and influential independent records, culminating in 1994’s 24-Hour Revenge Therapy

After consistently dismissing the notion of being the latest of the punk bands to "sellout" to a major record label, they eventually capitulated and took a $1-million deal with DGC. 

That partnership resulted in 1995’s Dear You album.  The album was a total failure.  Along with the massive pressure that their high-dollar deal created, Dear You alienated their fan base due to its polished and “corporate” sound. 

Unable to handle the expectations, the band swiftly broke up, becoming the poster children for one of the most tumultuous periods in punk rock history.

Arizona State has fallen victim to similar fates before.

Many times in their past, the expectations for the perennially underachieving Sun Devils have been high.  Yet each time, those hopes have gone unfulfilled as the team crumbled under the stress of title contending pressure.

Most recently, the Sun Devils have gone three straight seasons without a bowl appearance, a stretch unprecedented in their history.

There are several reasons why 2011 will be yet another in a string of disappointments in Tempe.

ASU’s single greatest failing last season did not lie with their talent, but rather in their inability to finish games.  Whether it was Wisconsin, Oregon, USC or Stanford, ASU stood toe-to-toe with elite teams, putting themselves into a position to win. 

Yet in each case they were their own worst enemy, committing costly errors that led directly to their defeats. 

Even with the experience of 2010 under their belts, until the Sun Devils prove to have shaken their uncanny ability to find ways to lose, they cannot be considered a true contender.

Another concern is injuries.  In April, ASU lost unanimous first-team All-Pac-10 selection cornerback Omar Bolden and projected starting wide receiver T.J. Simpson to torn ACLs. 

The players taking their spots are not entirely proven and losing players of such quality never makes a team better.

Finally, is quarterback Brock Osweiler really ready for the pressure of leading a team?  In his two years in Tempe, he’s only thrown 164 passes (completing a mere 52.4 percent) and only made two starts (with a 1-1 record). 

Will fans see the Osweiler who accounted for five touchdowns against UCLA, or the quarterback who was extremely lucky he didn’t have five or six interceptions against Arizona? 

Contending teams can’t afford such up-and-down play at the game’s most crucial position.

Why ASU Will Succeed – The Green Day Outcome

“Bite my lip and close my eyes, take me away to paradise”

Hailing from the same punk scene as Jawbreaker at Berkeley’s famed 924 Gilman St. club, Green Day released two albums on independent labels before gaining the attention of the major labels in 1993.

After signing with Reprise, they set to work on their major label debut amidst some extensive turmoil.  Their decision to sign with a major label alienated the band from much of their fan base and added more tension to an already high-pressure situation. 

Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong said, “I couldn't go back to the punk scene, whether we were the biggest success in the world or the biggest failure.”

They were the former as, unlike Jawbreaker, Green Day was an unmitigated success.  Their debut album Dookie was a smash hit, eventually selling 16 million copies and winning the 1995 Grammy for Best Alternative Album.  

Leveraging their dogged determination with a clear vision of who they are, Green Day have now sold 65 million records worldwide and become the greatest example of a band from that era triumphing over the long odds and pressure of expectations.

The reasons why the Sun Devils will follow in Green Day’s shoes as they tackle title contending pressure are many.

The primary factor in their favor is their returning talent, as the team only lost two starters from last season.  Having weathered an uneven season, the kids of 2010 are now the veterans of 2011, primed and ready for the new Pac-12. 

Whether they have learned from their woes of late-game letdowns is another story, however.

Another reason for Sun Devil optimism is the abundance of playmakers on offense.  There is no stronger unit on the team than at running back, where explosive dual-threat sophomore Deantre Lewis could be a darkhorse Heisman contender. 

He shares time in the backfield with the powerful Cameron Marshall to form a potent thunder-and-lightning combination.  They are augmented by the versatile and speedy duo of Jamal Miles and Kyle Middlebrooks, each of whom has seen time at running back or wide receiver. 

Despite losing leading receiver Kerry Taylor to graduation and Simpson to the aforementioned ACL tear, Osweiler still has excellent targets downfield.  Senior Gerrell Robinson is looking to take the next step after his five touchdown season.

In a recent interview, Taylor labeled Mike Willie as the team’s X-factor this season, calling him “a beast on the field” who can “run, catch, block and is probably the most physical receiver I have seen at ASU.”

Finally, ASU figures to continue being among the top defenses in the country despite the Bolden injury. 

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has seen his name on numerous pre-season All-American and 2012 NFL Draft lists and for good reason.  He is a defensive terror in a Ray Lewis mold. 

Burfict patrols sideline-to-sideline with blinding swiftness, and if there is anyone who can slash the Gordian Knot of the BCS for ASU, it’s Burfict.

He’ll get help upfront from explosive defensive end Junior Onyeali, who is coming off his Pac-10 Conference Defensive Freshman of the Year award.  The Sun Devil pass rush was anemic until his insertion into the starting lineup against Washington and he is primed for a monster season.

Chart Topper or Booed off the Stage?

So should ASU fans expect the thrilling success of Green Day or the crushing letdown of Jawbreaker?

It doesn’t take an American Idiot to know that anything can happen over the course of a college football season and that expectations (positive or negative) don't put points on the board. 

ASU is facing a tough schedule in the new Pac-12 conference and has many questions to answer in order for them to be elevated to contender status.

That being said, all the elements are in place for the Sun Devils to make a serious run at the conference championship and a BCS berth.

While they may not ultimately take home the hardware, they are certain to have many rockin’ hits this fall.

Follow me on Twitter @ASU_Examiner for the latest updates and analysis on ASU football


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