Tuesday, October 25, 2011
ASU can't overlook 'easy' games
By Ted Miller
Our lesson today comes from the Football Scriptures, Bear Bryant, Chapter Four, Verse Eight, which includes the 10 Sacred Football Commandments. See just after Commandment V, "Thou shall play one game at a time."
Commandment VI: "Thou shall not take any opponent lightly, for thenst thou surely will get thou butt kickest."
(Note: We prefer to use the Codex John McKay, as translated by the Venerable Bede, instead of the Codex Fielding Yost, translated by Alcuin, per a directive from Charlemagne).
Woe to the team that overlooks an apparently weak foe. Ask any team that's lost to an FCS program. Or USC in 2007 against Stanford. Or Oklahoma last weekend.
Arizona State is getting healthier. All-league cornerback Omar Bolden, who has missed the season, has been cleared to play.
Arizona State should take heed. It is very easy to look at the Sun Devils schedule and have one reaction: Piece of cake!
Of the Sun Devils five remaining opponents, just one -- 4-3 California, which must come to Tempe for the season finale on Nov. 25 -- owns a winning record at present.
Further, the Sun Devils, 3-1 in Pac-12 play, appear to be in complete control of the conference's South Division. USC also is 3-1 in the conference but is ineligible for the postseason. Three of the four remaining South Division foes already have four conference defeats. The lone team in striking distance? UCLA, at 2-2.
Who believes UCLA, a 48-12 loser at Arizona last Thursday, is going to win the South? Anyone? [Crickets] Anyone? [Crickets].
So it would be very easy for the Sun Devils to start looking ahead to the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2.
Colorado coming to town on Saturday? Pfftt. The Buffaloes are 1-7 and have surrendered 145 points in their past three games. Just about all their good players -- receiver Paul Richardson, linebacker Doug Rippy, running back Rodney Stewart, etc. -- are hurt. Heck, QB Tyler Hansen is questionable after suffering a concussion in the 45-2 loss to Oregon.
At this point, one should re-read Commandment VI.
“I think in the game of football, sometimes you’ll see a team looking past another team," Sun Devils quarterback Brock Osweiler said. "[This week] it will be a good test for us."
No doubt. The entire five-game stretch will be a good test of ASU's focus, which, if true, could yield substantial rewards. And things are looking up in other ways, too.
Sure, the 41-27 loss at Oregon still smarts, but as solid as the Sun Devils have been so far, they might bring a substantially better team to the championship game (sportswriters have no such prohibition on looking ahead). Recall how injury ravaged this team once was? Well, it's getting healthier after a bye week.
For one, defensive end Junior Onyeali, only the team's best pass-rusher, is expected to play against Colorado, his first action since hurting his knee at Illinois on Sept. 17. Offensive tackle Evan Finkenberg (knee) could be back this week but more likely will be ready for the trip to UCLA on Nov. 5. Further, running back Cameron Marshall and offensive tackle Aderious Simmons, who both have ankle injuries -- Marshall has continued to play through it; Simmons returned for the Oregon game -- used the bye week to get healthier.
Finally, there's the Omar Bolden question. Bolden, perhaps the best defensive back in the conference, who has not played this season after tearing his ACL in spring practice, has been cleared by doctors to practice.
"He was actually on the scout team the other day," coach Dennis Erickson "He’s moving around pretty well. I don’t know if or when he will play. It’s up to him and the doctors."
Adding an A-list cornerback -- he was a unanimous first-team All-Pac-10 pick last year -- to an already solid Sun Devils defense would be, well, huge.
You can follow Omar's progress on his Twitter page, where he Monday tweeted: "Cleared by my doctor from a medical standpoint..... Now I gotta get my #Swagger back!!!" And "I won't play unless I'm just as effective as I was 6 months ago.... Refuse to damage stock!"
So stay tuned.
As for not taking teams lightly, Erickson said the good news is his team is mature and senior-laden. And if they need a reminder of what can happen when they give a less-than-focused effort, they can just reference the Sept. 17 trip to Illinois, a 17-14 loss to a team that had no business being within two TDs of the Sun Devils.
There's no escaping the reality of the schedule. The Sun Devils should win their next five games and finish at 10-2, a record that should have them within striking distance of the top-10.
And who knows what could happen in one-game playoff to get to the Rose Bowl?
"We have some goals that we can achieve," Erickson said. "We will not achieve them if we do not win the next game and the next game and the next game."
And, of course, it all starts with THE next game, and nothing else.