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Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Will ASU show up against Boise State?

By Ted Miller

Is the Arizona State team that whipped USC 43-22 still somewhere inside the Arizona State team that lost 31-27 to Arizona? That Sun Devils squad that lost four in a row to finish the season -- cumulative record of foes: 21-28 -- can't possibly transform back into the hard-nosed, opportunistic unit that won 35-14 at Utah, can it?

Other than Illinois, which beat Arizona State during a 6-0 start but lost its final six games, no other team in the country captures that whole Jekyll-and-Hyde thing quite like the Sun Devils.

They started 6-2, earned a national ranking and were almost certain to win the Pac-12 South Division title. Then they completely collapsed. It's still difficult to figure out exactly what happened.

"It's not one thing you can put your finger on," senior linebacker Colin Parker said. "It was a combination of things. Every game was different. Sometimes our problems were on special teams. Sometimes our problems were on defense. Sometimes our problems were on offense. It was never the same."

The current problem the Sun Devils have is Boise State in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. Boise State went 11-1. It is ranked eighth. It is unhappy to be in Las Vegas -- again -- instead of the BCS bowl game it deserved, but the Broncos are not the sort of program that mopes and whines and turns in a flat performance. In fact, when the Broncos see an AQ-conference team on the opposite side of the field, they go all Bruce Banner-to-Incredible Hulk.

They last lost to one on Sept. 8, 2007 -- Washington, of all teams.

Meanwhile, it's reasonable to ask if the Sun Devils, a 14-point underdog, will show up. We already know that defensive end Junior Onyeali won't. He's been suspended. And we don't know what will happen with linebacker Vontaze Burfict, whose been running with the second team since he got benched against California in the season finale for a pair of personal foul penalties.

And, of course, this will be Dennis Erickson's last game as Sun Devils coach before Todd Graham takes over. Players might want to win one for Erickson, or they might not care because he's out the door.

Parker says the Sun Devils will be motivated.

"It's about sending the seniors out and especially the coaching staff out," Parker said. "Everybody here has only played for Coach Erickson and his staff. We've grown close together and none of us want to see him go. But it is what it is."

Parker said the time off away from the field has helped the team heal mentally and refocus.

"We've cleared our minds a little bit," he said. "We know what we are capable of. We've just got to go out and play like we did our first six games. We feel like we can play with anybody in the country."

The team that started 6-2 certainly could go nose-to-nose with Boise State. The team that went 0-4 in November, however, doesn't stand a chance.

So who shows up?