Arizona State has a beautiful campus filled with beautiful people. If Mitt Romney was describing the student body, he'd probably say they were all the right height, had the right tan and right little spark in their eyes.
They're attractive people down there. That's not to say we don't have attractive women among our fan bases here in Utah - but on the whole, Arizona State is ... well ... a modeling catalog. That's what they're known for - oh, and the partying. Their women love to party.
Because this is a respectable blog, and we would never demean women by subjugating them for their lady parts, I won't post photos of just how hot their women are ... but if you're interested, you know, for research, you can Google on your own (or even click here). No one will judge you.
But let's be honest, when someone mentions Arizona State, generally only two things come to mind, maybe three - they love to party, they've got smokin' hot women and their campus is located in suburban Hell, population 3 million. Now, before the torches are lit and the fine folk in Arizona feel the need to storm my castle, I'm not calling you guys hell ... well, okay, I am, but not because I think you're hell. No. That's not it. I just realize you're about as hot as hell and I think that will be on full display this weekend. It's hot down there. So hot that Cerberus probably is guarding the entrance into greater metro Phoenix as we speak.
Of course, when we're battling snow, frigid temps and a windchill that hardens your snot the second it drips from your cold, raw nose up here in Utah, you're basking in weather that makes you the envy of the world. So, what I'm trying to say is, go JD Falslev yourself. Okay, not really. I love you guys.
Anyway, this is something Todd Graham is trying to change. Okay, not the weather bit, he's not God and I doubt he'll be able to bring cooler September temps to Arizona. I mean the 'what the hell is ASU known for' bit. He'd love them to be known for their program - as was the case in the 1970s under the legendary Frank Kush. So far? So good. The Sun Devils are 2-1 and have already abused a hapless Big 10 team (Illinois), so, while they did lose in
Big 12 SEC country last weekend, you can at least see some positive movement in the right direction. For a program that has struggled with consistency since joining the Pac-12 in 1978, that's a great start.
Now, who knows how long Graham plans to stay in the sweltering desert of Arizona (he does have a reputation for job-hopping), but he's innovative enough on the offensive end to make some noise. He also benefits from a perception out there that the Sun Devils should be a college football power ... or at least a Pac-12 power.
We've seen this on a lesser level in the Mountain West. No one could grasp why programs like San Diego State and UNLV, located in two of the best cities in the country, continually struggled building anything ... while programs like Utah and BYU, Colorado State, Wyoming and now even Boise State, located in less desirable cities and states, have, or had, figured it out.
It was perplexing because the Aztecs, located in gorgeous San Diego, next to the ocean with constant perfect weather and sunny skies and amazing looking people and the entire state of California to recruit from, never did anything. They flopped under BYU's former offensive coordinator Doug Scovil. They flopped under Denny Stolz and Ted Tollner and Tom Craft and Chuck Long and it just looked like that program would never amount to anything, even though it had, seemingly, everything.
But Brady Hoke changed that narrative pretty quickly. Though he only coached there two seasons, he rapidly laid a foundation so that the program could, in his final season there, go 9-4 and win their first bowl game in 41 years. Rocky Long, who had New Mexico more respectable during the 00s than San Diego State, has stepped in and done a well enough job - he's 10-6 in a season and three games.
Today, the Aztecs are about to make the jump to the Big East. It's a big step, and it's unclear if their football program can sustain all this forward momentum, but at least they're in the position to because of what's happened over the last few years.
Arizona State fits that mold. Granted, they've had more overall success than the Aztecs and Rebels, and I don't want to sound like I'm downplaying that success, but in the last sixteen years since they made the Rose Bowl and came a play away from winning the national championship, the Sun Devils have gone 99-86. It's not a bad record, but it showcases just how inconsistent they've been over the years.
Their best season throughout that stretch was a 10-3 campaign in Dennis Erickson's first year. It was actually a good season that led many, many fans to believe Arizona State had finally figured it out. The next season, though, their perception of what should be came crashing down during an overtime loss to UNLV at home. Since that game, really, things haven't been right for this program. They shored it up somewhat early last season, but collapsed into a smoldering heap halfway through. A promising season, a season that should have ended with a Pac-12 South division title, ended with a 6-7 record (their fourth-straight non-winning season) and the firing of their head coach instead.
Enter Todd Graham. It's his job, just as it was Erickson's and Dirk Koetter's before him, to figure out how to make Arizona State live up to the perception of that of the college football world. Maybe he won't be able to do it and maybe it won't be possible to do it ... but then again, maybe he'll be Brady Hoke. Maybe he'll get it done and maybe the Sun Devils will rise to challenge USC for the best team, year in and year out, in the Pac-12 South.
It's not an easy task for a coach whose longest stint in any college town was four seasons (Tulsa) and his shortest just one (done twice - at Rice & Pitt). But he seems up for it and the fans have certainly bought into it. That latter point is what matters right now because you want the fans invested and excited and optimistic. The rest will either come or it won't, but in your first year, it's one of the most important parts of being a coach.
For Graham, Saturday marks a chance to position his team in the overall scheme of the Pac-12 South. Utah is a good opponent, but it's also a game they maybe should win because it's at home and the Utes still, even if they figured out a lot against BYU, have some uncertainties. And yet, a loss might set his foundation building back a bit. If the Sun Devils are going to prove they can compete in the Pac-12 South, maybe challenge for a bowl game and not sink to the bottom like many predicted prior to their win over Illinois, they'll need to win games like this. Conversely, if the Utes want to prove they actually do belong in this conference and can win on the road (something I think they started establishing last year), a game like this is just as important from their point of view.
So, that makes Saturday's contest, while maybe not season-defining for either team, pretty damn important for both teams. That makes for the possibility of an exciting game between two good teams battling for division supremacy. For both, it really is a chance to legitimize their seasons to this point.
For Graham, that's an important step in making Arizona State more known for what's on the football field than who's in the stands.