It's essentially the end of Sun Devil head coach Dennis Erickson's tenure at ASU.
Whether or not athletic director Lisa Love allows Erickson to coach in a meaningless bowl game, the time has come for change at the top. It's hard to imagine, after watching another lackluster losing performance last night vs. Cal, at home, on senior night, that this is the same team that beat USC just six weeks ago.
In fact, it's not, and that's the problem.
Instead of getting progressively better after that big win, the Devils went in the tank and finished the regular season with four consecutive losses against what were widely perceived to be lesser conference opponents.
While you can overlook losing to Oregon in Eugene, and maybe even tossing the Illinois loss up to the dreaded "trap game" syndrome, it's unacceptable to go down in flames to UCLA, Washington State, Arizona and Cal in consecutive weeks. While losing in and of itself should be unacceptable, in the game of college football where every week is a playoff game, it's not only that you lost, but how and why you lost that figure prominently and provide a window into the inner desire and fortitude of a team and program. Lowlights include:
- Giving up a 4th-and-29 with the game on the line in the fourth quarter against UCLA.
- Allowing a freshman QB throw for almost 500 yards in less than a full game against Washington State.
- Missing around 20 tackles and letting your bitter in-state rival, led by an interim head coach, beat you on your home field.
- Letting Cal put up almost 500 yards of total offense in front of a one-third empty stadium on senior night.
- Maligned (not heralded after all) and cancerous MLB Vontaze Burfict being benched after his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a meaningless extra point attempt vs. Cal, then chatting amicably with teammates as if this was an everyday occurrence. Wait, it is an everyday occurrence.
- Leading all Div. I programs in penalties in 2011, the fifth straight season they've finished in the bottom five in the category.
ASU has talent. ASU has facilities. But the team is fractured from within. There's not enough glue holding together the model and over the past four weeks, those fractures have been widely exposed.
As painful the thought of starting over, again, seems to the Sun Devil faithful, there's absolutely no groundswell from players, alumni or fans to keep the current coaching regime in place. It's clearly time to move forward with more energy and conviction to compete in the Pac-12.
Although ASU loses 23 seniors, there's still enough talent left and coming on board to be competitive within the conference. But the next staff will have to get a collective vision and heartbeat with the "right" group of players that makes losing unacceptable, and winning games against inferior opponents a mandate.