Arizona State Football came out on fire this year with a 5-1 record, needing one more win to become bowl-eligible. They have now been waiting over a month for that elusive sixth victory.
Four straight losses to ranked teams have put the Sun Devil faithful on high alert.
ASU fans have seen it time and time again. They began the 2007 season with eight straight wins, then lost at UCLA and at home to USC on Thanksgiving Day. They won a share of the Pac-10 title and were invited to the Holiday Bowl. That was the last time the Sun Devils put out a good team.
In San Diego, they were embarrassed by the University of Texas, losing by 18 points, and things went quickly downhill after that.
The next four seasons were some of the most painful for fans of Arizona State football.
The Sun Devils finished the 2008 season at 5-7 (4-5) including a six-game losing streak.They rebounded and won the next three games but lost the Territorial Cup in Tucson after three straight years of bragging rights.
The 2009 season began with two straight victories over horrible teams and Arizona State was a respectable 4-2 with six games remaining. They lost all six games, including the Duel in the Desert against the Arizona Wildcats on a last second field goal by Alex Zendejas.
With a record of 4-8 (2-7), the Sun Devils were reeling and change was eminent if things didn’t turn around quickly.
After a snafu in scheduling in 2010, Arizona State played its first two games against FCS teams and then went on to lose four of their next five games against FBS teams.
The final game of the year had the Sun Devils visiting Tucson for the annual Territorial Cup.
My brother and I braved the 40 degree temperatures on that December night, but the reception that we received from the Wildcats fans was much colder.
We were treated to one of the best games in Territorial Cup history, at least from my standpoint.
When Nick Foles threw a touchdown pass with 27 seconds left in the game to tie it up, the fate of the game once again was on the shoulders of kicker Alex Zendejas.
The PAT was blocked and the game went into overtime. The teams traded field goals in the first overtime session and then traded touchdowns in the second stanza, only to have Zendejas’ PAT once again blocked.
Although Arizona State won its last two games, they finished the season at 6-6 (4-5) and were ineligible for postseason play as they had beaten two teams from the FCS.
Once again, Sun Devil fans were worried.
Feeling the heat, coach Dennis Erickson actually started coaching.
His 2011 Sun Devil squad came out firing on all cylinders. They started the season at 6-2 (4-1) and had quickly gained bowl eligibility. Their next goal was to claim the inaugural Pac-12 crown, as the USC Trojans were suspended from postseason action.
In traditional ASU fashion, the Sun Devils went on to lose their final four games of the season to finish once again at 6-6 (4-5). They were invited to play in the Las Vegas Bowl, but gave up 14 points within minutes and were once again embarrassed in their bowl game by a score of 56-24.
A major shakeup then hit Arizona State University. They replaced not only their football coach, but their Athletic Director, as well.
A new regime, a new attitude, a return to tradition and the new look Arizona State Football program was born.
New head coach Todd Graham took the Sun Devils back to the hallowed practice grounds of Camp Tontozona, where legendary coach Frank Kush began taking the team back in 1960.
He began the Devil Walk prior to each home game and allows one top performer each week to don the sacred No. 42 jersey in practice that was once worn by American hero Pat Tillman.
Optimism was high, ticket sales were up and students were actually planning on foregoing their usual Saturday night partying to attend the football games.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Sun Devils are currently in the midst of a four game losing streak, needing only one more win to become bowl eligible. Fortunately for Arizona State, they are welcoming the Washington State Cougars to Tempe this weekend.
Prior to that game, Arizona State had won three straight in Pullman and seven overall. More impressive is the utter domination the Sun Devils have shown, outscoring the Cougars 73-0 in the past two games in Tempe.
Even a University of Arizona student can tell you that the Sun Devils need to win this game to put the brakes on the the four-game losing streak.
If ASU were to lose this weekend when historically bad ASU teams have been able to win, Graham’s philosophies of Speaking Victory and Left Lane, Hammer Down are nothing but empty promises.
It was said many times prior to the season that this year would be a rebuilding year for Graham to set the foundation for a successful program. The only problem was that they started off so well and many expected the success to continue.
I predict that they will win this weekend in Tempe, but lose on the road to in-state rival Arizona in another hard fought battle. The Sun Devils will finish 6-6 (4-5) for the third consecutive year and accept the invitation to play in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
The future for Todd Graham’s high octane style of football rests equally on the shoulders of quarterback Taylor Kelly, running backs D.J. Foster and Marion Grice and tight end Chris Coyle.
Injuries to the defense and offensive line have had a deep impact on the Sun Devils this season, namely Andrew Sampson, Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali.
This is where recruiting and having depth in all areas is crucial. Hopefully Graham’s future classes will fill the myriad of holes that are currently affecting the team.
Moving forward, Graham needs to maintain the discipline after the final regular season game.
The Sun Devils have lost their last three bowl games and they haven’t even been close. They have had very little to celebrate about in the postseason.
Arizona State is 3-7 in their past 10 bowl games, including a 20-17 Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State in 1997 that would have crowned them National Champions had they won.
The theme for ASU football over the past two seasons has been, “It’s Time.”
Well Coach Graham, we are still waiting.