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Thursday, August 7, 2008
Best case-Worst case: Arizona State

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Second in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting from the top of our preseason Power Rankings and working down.

Up next: Arizona State.

Best case

Arizona State didn't look terribly good rumbling to a 3-0 start -- including a 28-24 win over pesky Stanford -- but it turns out Dennis Erickson was keeping his cards close to his chest.

Then the Devils came down on Georgia, thumping the nation's No. 1 team, 38-24.

Using four and five receivers almost the entire game, the Sun Devils spread the Bulldogs out, and Rudy Carpenter went to work, completing 25 of 35 for 320 yards and three touchdowns. Most surprising: He was only sacked once, as the maligned offensive line kept the Bulldogs in check.

Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford wasn't so lucky. ASU end Dexter Davis had two sacks, and safety Troy Nolan returned one of his two interceptions for a 35-yard touchdown.

Of course, the work was hardly over. After a bye, the Sun Devils faced a brutal gauntlet -- at California, at USC, Oregon and at Oregon State. They emerged 3-1 from that stretch, losing only to USC by a late field goal.

The season concludes with a showdown with arch-rival and 15th-ranked Arizona, one of five Pac-10 teams in the top 25. In front of a packed house in Tucson, the No. 4 Sun Devils escape with a 27-24 victory as Thomas Weber connects from 55 yards with four seconds left.

That leaves the Sun Devils in a three-way tie atop the Pac-10 with USC and Oregon, which beat USC for the second-consecutive year, but ASU wins the tie-breaker and goes to the Rose Bowl -- with some fans ranting about the BCS system leaving them out of the national title game.

In Pasadena, Rudy Carpenter, back from New York after finishing third in Heisman Trophy balloting, leads the Sun Devils to a 45-17 stomping of overmatched Wisconsin.

And, in February, the recruiting rankings come out: 1) Arizona State; 2) USC.

The giant awakes.

Worst case

Some tried to write off the three sacks Northern Arizona recorded in the opener, but it became abundantly clear that Arizona State's offensive line was even more dubious than even the most pessimistic preseason outlooks predicted.

Stanford's six sacks pretty much made that manifest in the Cardinal's shocking 24-27 victory in Sun Devils Stadium.

A two-touchdown win over UNLV briefly raised hopes that perhaps Dennis Erickson would work some game-plan magic to hold No. 1 Georgia back, but the Bulldogs came West to prove their legitimacy.

A 41-10 victory did just that.

The question became could the uncannily durable Carpenter make it through the season.

Carpenter's heroics keyed a tough win at California, but any hope that the Sun Devils were headed back to the top-third of the conference were quickly dispelled by consecutive, decisive defeats to USC and Oregon.

Both the Trojans and Ducks were able to exploit the soft middle of the Sun Devils' defense, which slowed down ends Davis and Luis Vasquez. When injuries hit the secondary, the defense started to lose its mojo.

Consistency became a problem. A nice win at Oregon State was followed by an upset loss in the pouring rain at Washington, with Huskies quarterback Jake Locker accounting for 400 yards of total offense.

After splitting with Washington State and UCLA, the Sun Devils headed south to face hated rival Arizona, needing a victory to earn a sixth win necessary for a bowl berth.

But the 15th-ranked Wildcats, surrounded by newly enthused fans with "In Stoops We Trust" T-Shirts, shock the Sun Devils by running right at them. Two hundred-fifty yards rushing and a physical, 30-20 victory later, and Arizona notches its 10th victory and boots ASU from bowl eligibility.

Stoops, shortly thereafter, is named Pac-10 Coach of the Year, which goes down even easier when his Wildcats bury Texas in the Holiday Bowl -- and their fans can't help but recall ASU's embarrassing performance in the 2007 game against the Longhorns.