Pac-12 'tease' team: Arizona State

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
9:00
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In 2008, the then-Pac-10 blog noted that "If you Google 'Arizona State' and 'sleeping giant,' 3,400 articles come up."

If you did it this week, you get 85,900 results (in 0.23 seconds! Technology rocks! Though it doesn't seem as if all the matches are relevant, Google).

In 2008, we wrote, "If a Pac-10 team has a chance to break USC's choke-hold on the conference title -- or at least to regularly challenge the Trojans for the top spot -- it's the Sun Devils."

Drrrrrr.

We were wrong. Somehow I want to blame Chip Kelly.

We are considering programs that are "teases" in the Pac-12, which my new boss, Ruthless Reynolds, described as "teams that always look great in the preseason only to underwhelm when play starts."

Sun Devils, why can't we quit you?

Well, lots of reasons.

You have the only coach in the conference who's won a national title in Dennis Erickson. As a resident of north Scottsdale living in the shadow of Black Mountain, I can confirm that the weather -- though a bit toasty in the summer -- is just about perfect eight months of the year. Tempe is just a short flight from the recruiting hotbed of Southern California. The, er, scene at Arizona State strikes this codger as something that might appeal to an average 18- or 19-year-old male. Academic standards don't typically limit recruiting options.

And the program has been there before, becoming a national power in the 1970s under Frank Kush and then again in the 1996 season, when it lost a national title in a thrilling Rose Bowl defeat to Ohio State.

Still, it's one of the great questions in college football: Why doesn't Arizona State win more consistently?

Of late, the Sun Devils have typically underperform compared to expectations. In four of the past six years, they've finished below where they were picked in the Pac-10 preseason media poll, most notably in 2008 -- that year! -- when they were picked second in the conference but finished sixth with a 5-7 record.

To be fair, though, they've eclipsed their preseason prediction in two of the four years -- 2007 and 2010 -- under Erickson.

And so we have 2011.

The Pac-12 blog started touting Arizona State as a 2011 contender before last season was done. Why? It wasn't just that the Sun Devils went nose-to-nose with some of the best teams in the country -- Oregon, Wisconsin, Stanford -- it was coaches from other teams specifically noting how talented the Sun Devils were.

Then you looked at the 2010 depth chart: Everyone was coming back. Seriously: The only senior starters last year were receiver Kerry Taylor and defensive tackle Saia Falahola.

Wow. To be honest, my thought process immediately saw 6-6 in 2010 and thought Rose Bowl shot in 2011.

But after a nice finish to the 2010 season, little has gone right for the Sun Devils. Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy made a poor decision and entered the NFL draft. Quarterback Steven Threet was forced to retire due to concussions. Fellow quarterback Samson Szakacsy left the team. Unanimous All-Pac-10 cornerback Omar Bolden blew out his knee at the beginning of spring practices, followed shortly thereafter by top returning receiver T.J. Simpson. Starting defensive end James Brooks quit, and the status of talented running back Deantre Lewis (gunshot wound) remains up in the air as he might redshirt this season.

That's five starters, a co-starter (Lewis) and an experienced backup quarterback. So, Sun Devils fans, you have a ready-made excuse if the season falls short of expectations and you end up only wondering what might have been.

That said, Arizona State, despite these major personnel losses, is still good enough to win the South Division. It also helps, by the way, that USC's ineligibility means it's only a five-team race among squads that each have significant holes.

But every time you start to think they'll be OK, something else happens, such as All-American linebacker Vontaze Burfict fighting a receiver he outweighs by 50 pounds in the locker room last week, or linebacker Oliver Aaron suffering a high ankle sprain, or backup defensive tackle Joita Te'i suffering a foot injury that will sideline him for seven weeks, or cornerback Devan Spann dislocated his left shoulder two times in the first week of practice.

Still, 28 seniors back in the locker room, five starters back on the offensive line, Burfict leading impressive talent in the front seven, an underrated running back in Cameron Marshall and a quarterback in Brock Osweiler who looks ready to lead.

Sun Devils, why can't we quit you?

Ted Miller | email

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