It is about time the helmet and uniform colors change. After four weeks of battling against their comrades, Arizona State officially opens the 2011 football season on Thursday night.
The men across the line will look like Notre Dame, but don’t be mistaken, it is merely the UC Davis Aggies. Perhaps this opponent fits the “looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane” scenario with their uniforms. Still, the opponent across the line demands respect. If UC Davis can take advantage of a passive Bowl Subdivision opponent, they will.
In the past five seasons the Aggies have kicked two West Coast FBS teams out of their own stadium. San Jose State (14-13 Loss in ’10) and Stanford (20-17 Loss in ‘05), were the teams that were left embarrassed following those contests, and oddly enough, ASU fell victim to Stanford (45-35) that very same season.
ASU has felt thoroughly shocked and embarrassed on Frank Kush Field not too long ago themselves. The opponent was not a Championship Subdivision member, but the UNLV Rebels who left maroon and gold supporters wondering, “What happened?”
That September night in Tempe, an overtime debacle wrote the script on looking forward to your next opponent. In 2008 it was the Georgia Bulldogs, and it turned out “looking ahead” had nothing to do with ASU’s performance.
Eerily similar to ASU’s season opener on Thursday night, a looming nationally ranked opponent in the Missouri Tigers come to Sun Devil Stadium for a showdown.
But, this nightmare can’t unfold before Dennis Erickson’s eyes. Not this season, and not with this team. The approach to every practice has been different. Instead of lackadaisical practice habits, the team begins practice with one goal in mind: the Bowl Championship Series. That tone has resonated for four weeks of practice.
“BCS” is the war cry. During Dennis Erickson’s inaugural season in Tempe, the team broke huddles with the next desired win count: “Eight, Nine, Ten, etc.” It was something brand new to the football program that remembers the echoes of Dirk Koetter’s “Answer the Scratch” slogan and minimal rah-rah spirit beyond that.
The identity of the 2011 squad is entirely different. Many people believe the hype of the preseason publications regarding the Sun Devils. On the other hand, the team started the process following the 2010 season long before Phil Steele or the great Lindy’s printed a word.
As 13 players saw their eligibility run out, the maroon and gold’s core remained intact. Moreover, 27 seniors returned motivated by past failures and even deeper memories of glory. Many of the players in the starting lineup now, wore the redshirt tag during the Pac-10 Co-Championship season four years ago. They step on the front-lines now with a desire to taste their own piece of success.
Along with 27 seniors, 20 juniors return that only know the feeling of turning in their jersey and equipment following the Duel in the Desert. Which makes it even more surprising “BCS” is the chant of choice.
Nobody wants to hear words this time of year. Now, It’s all about playing the game of football. Everything Erickson has built since his arrival in December of 2006 is hinging on the results and production on the gridiron this fall. Motivation is not thin on any coaching staff member or the players.
Mentally, the team is a year older in the offense. Emotionally, the team has areas where the reigns need to be held firmly, yet appear bold and secure with their swagger.
Physical ability against a live opponent is the only question mark remaining. Practice is practice, but the bright lights are entirely different. UC Davis will line up ready to battle looking for the upset.
On the other side of the ball, Arizona State will be ready to make their first statement of 2011, with and exclamation mark.
Get the fireworks ready on the buttes! Thursday night will be the first of many happy nights in Tempe.