While it's debatable how important penalty yards per game is as a measure of a successful team -- you'll see a number of top-25 teams ranked at the bottom here -- there's no question that Arizona State's excessive penalty yards in 2011 spoke to a lack of discipline.
There are good penalties and bad penalties. Penalties of choice that cannot possibly help your team -- personal fouls/unsportsmanlike conduct or false starts -- are bad, while actions contrary to rules when you're trying to get an advantage -- holding, pass interference -- can be good, at least when you get away with such behavior on other plays.
The Sun Devils in 2011 mostly did the bad ones when they ranked last in the nation in penalty yards per game. They just did stupid things that hurt themselves, often at critical moments in the game. Over and over again. They were quintessentially undisciplined.
When Todd Graham was hired before the 2012 season, he promised more discipline. And he 100 percent delivered on that promise.
The Sun Devils moved up from last to eighth in the nation, with 34.92 penalty yards per game in 2012. That's 44.85 yards per game better in 2012 than in 2011, which is darn near like moving from the goal line to midfield.
Not only that, the school's sports information department determined the 2012 Sun Devils posted seven of the 10 least penalized games for the program since the 2006 season.
Pen/Yards Opponent (Date)
1-5 -- vs. Illinois (2012)
1-5 -- vs. Washington State (2006)
2-10 -- vs. Oregon (2012)
1-15 -- vs. California (2012)
3-20 -- vs. UCLA (2006)
3-20 -- vs. USC (2007)
2-25 -- vs. Navy (2012)
3-30 -- vs. Oregon State (2012)
4-30 -- vs. Washington State (2012)
4-30 -- vs. Northern Arizona (2012)
Plenty of bad teams don't get many penalties. Kansas, for example, ranked third in the nation in penalty yards per game. And plenty of good ones get a lot of penalties: Texas A&M, Florida State, LSU, Ohio State, Florida and Oregon ranked between 79th and 114th in the nation in penalty yards last fall.
Still, there surely were more than a few rolled eyeballs when Graham spoke of a "culture change" when he was hired. This is a tangible measure that he delivered one.
You know, other than posting the program's first winning season in the regular season since 2007.