- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Week 1 bye, as it turned out, was a good thing for the Arizona State Sun Devils. Position battles were solidified, dings and bruises were nurtured, and newcomers were deeply acclimated to the scheme and way of life at ASU.
But now they are ready to start hitting someone in a different uniform. After spending last weekend watching games, the Sun Devils are anxious to play one of their own. They get their first shot tonight by hosting Sacramento State.
“I’ve never had the first week off,” said ASU coach Todd Graham. “I wasn’t too fired up about it, but it’s probably been an advantage for us because we have so many newcomers in the two-deep to get them ready to play. As a coach, I’ve enjoyed the more time to prepare, but our guys are really, really ready to start playing. You only get 29 opportunities to practice, but it seems like it’s been a lot longer than that. They are itching and ready to go.”
The last time the Sun Devils were on the field, they were thrashing Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Since then, ASU has experienced a significant hype bump, fueled by the return of defensive tackle Will Sutton and lofty expectations for key returners like quarterback Taylor Kelly, running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster and hybrid linebacker Carl Bradford, among others.
In fact, Graham had his players doing extra conditioning in practice this week to remind them that it’s game week -- and the intensity needs to rise.
“We set a standard, but that was a minimum standard,” Graham said. “Now we are taking the standard higher. That goes for our best players. Our deal is total accountability. That is what these guys want. They want to be held accountable. Every single up-down represents a mental error, critical error or a turnover. That is why we are doing that.”
Sacramento State lost its opener, 24-0, last week to San Jose State. But the Hornets are no strangers to the Pac-12. Last season, they topped Colorado and the year before, they beat Oregon State. And after what happened with the Beavers last week, Graham knows not to take anything for granted.
“Just like any team, they have got good skill players,” Graham said. “They are well-coached on offense, in the kicking game. The key for us is not turning the ball over and not beating ourselves in the kicking game.
"... I have been on that side a lot coming from mid-major programs. I know how we prepared. It is their entire season. It can make their entire season. I haven’t sat there and told our players you better get prepared or you will get beat. I tell them that the key is that they have no excuse. We can’t make any excuses. This is a game we should win.”
Last Saturday, Graham and his staff spent the day channel surfing. They watched the Sacramento State game, USC, UCLA, Washington and Wisconsin -- teams they will see in the future. Some sooner than others.
“I didn’t go fishing,” Graham joked.
The Sun Devils will be looking for an efficient performance tonight on both sides of the ball. And if things go well, perhaps they'll get the opportunity to rest some starters before kicking off one of the most brutal four-game stretches in college football. Next week they host No. 21 Wisconsin before traveling to No. 5 Stanford, home to No. 25 USC and then traveling to Dallas for a neutral-site game against No. 14 Notre Dame.
“In the next five weeks, something is going to happen,” Graham said. “We could be 5-0 or we could be 2-3, 1-4. These are all things that could happen. The most important thing if we are 2-3, we have got to make sure we are 2-0 in conference.”