August 24, 2007

'Swami:' Fat, bored, happy and ready for ride

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, I was using "Hoosiers" as my analogy and urging all of you to continue to support the Sun Devil football team that would be taking the field in the fall of 2006 as "your team."

The drama surrounding Sun Devil football was everywhere.

The coaching staff had worn thin on all of the faithful, the not-so-faithful, the players, and most importantly, the athletic administration.

There was the off-the-field stuff -- way too much of it, as it was.

There was the abysmal record against conference opponents in California.

There was the seeming lack of preparation against stiff opposition and the lack of passion and emotion to fuel execution.

There was just a lot, and it was all beginning to be too much.

At the end of the season, having been relieved of his position, then-head coach Dirk Koetter snidely remarked that ASU just wasn't what people thought it was. That it's just not as easy to win there as one might think. (Don't, by the way, mention that to the women's basketball team, women's track and field, women's golf and softball, baseball and the other highly successful programs. And don't tell Herb Sendek that it's impossible to recruit to Arizona State…)

And after an agonizing period (to me), ASU named Koetter's replacement: Dennis Erickson. Perhaps the epitome of the "Old Ball Coach." You all know his reputation and resume.

And so what have we seen so for and what do we have to look forward to?

Football. Virtually nothing but football.

What controversy, if you could call it that, came at the beginning of the Erickson era, with the second question from the media following his introduction as Arizona State's new head football coach: a question about loyalty and commitment, Erickson having joined Arizona State after only 10 months with the Idaho Vandals.

The reasons underlying Erickson's answer to that question may never be entirely clear to anyone other than Erickson and folks at Arizona State and the University of Idaho, but in any case, he's here now and as far as Sun Devil football goes, that's a good thing. Erickson is here and so is his staff.

And what a staff. You all know all about the staff, but what you possibly don't know is that there are some around the country who are saying that Erickson has assembled one of the best coaching staffs in the country at Arizona State.

They will have to be darned good.

The 2007 Sun Devils will have their share of challenges, certainly, and many of them will be quite familiar to the Sun Devil faithful.

Will the defensive line be effective? Will there be a defensive line? Can another corner be found to play opposite Justin Tryon? Will there be good chemistry between Rudy Carpenter and his receivers resulting in the expected offensive firepower? Can the offensive line stay healthy enough to get through a 13-game season?

Well, here we go. And here are some Swamilicious Predictions:

1. The Sun Devils have a great chance to be 5-0 on September 30, with Oregon State the biggest test of the early part of the season. 5-0? Could that be, you wonder?

Many have predicted OSU to lead ASU in the final conference standings by the end of the season. I'm not so sure. Mike Riley has some serious questions of his own. It's an old bromide that you can't win in the Pac-10 without an experienced quarterback. An oldie, but a goodie.

It's true, and Oregon State doesn't have one. There are two sophomores and a senior vying for the starting position and at this point, Riley hasn't named a starter.

Of equal significance, the Beaver's best receiver, Sammie Stroughter, will likely sit out the season for personal reasons.

It's beginning to look like the Beavers are going to be a one-man offensive band -- Yvenson Bernard. He's had a history of injuries - Riley hopes Bernard stays healthy.

And then there's history.

Over the past three seasons, the Beavers have finished an aggregate 8-4 on the road in conference. While a nice winning percentage, of those 8 wins, only one has come against an opponent which was ranked at the time (#18 California in 2005).

During those three years, the Beavers are a combined 7-0 on the road against the following three opponents: Washington, Arizona and Stanford.

Not very impressive.

Of the four losses, each has come against a ranked opponent. UCLA last year, ASU in 2005 and 2004 and Oregon in 2005. If we assume that being ranked means being at least a decent football team, then the Beavers have not done well on the road against decent teams. ASU will be, at the very least, a decent football team.

2. Arizona State will win a conference game in California. Recent odds against the Stanford Cardinal winning the Pac-10 Championship? 1 billion to 1. The Devils will get off the California schneid in Palo Alto September 29th, but that won't be saying much. Chandler Hamilton could probably give Stanford a good run.

What would be impressive is a conference win in Los Angeles November 10th against UCLA, but I'm not holding my breath.

3. Those predicting an 8-0 start are simply not being realistic. I have been saying for some time now that every year in the conference there are games which teams win that they shouldn't and games teams lose which they shouldn't (USC at Oregon State, for instance…!).

In the first seven games, the Devils should be able to handle the non-conference opponents and should crush the Cardinal and defeat the Huskies.

The two swing games in that stretch are the Beavers and the Cougars. The home game against the Beavers will likely be a dogfight (perhaps not the best analogy to use these days), which the Devils should win.

The road game against the Cougars will be a good chance for a loss, being the second of consecutive road games - and traveling to the Palouse is never a picnic. In fact, I look for that game to be eerily similar to the 2005 road game at the Palouse. You may recall, it took a late fourth quarter QB sack to preserve an ASU win. The 2005 Cougs were stronger than the 2007 Cougs look to be, and there's always the "Coug'ed it" factor going on there, but I'm not looking forward to that trip.

The October 27th game against California, while at home after a bye week and it being the second of consecutive road games for the Bears (who will have just played the Bruins at the Rose Bowl)…I just don't think it's realistic to think the Devils can win that game. Mind, I would dearly love to walk out of Sun Devil Stadium after the Cal game with egg plastered firmly all over my face, but I just don't think it's going to happen.

It is inevitable, as my one reader reminds me constantly, that I make one massive prediction error each season. Keep that in mind.

4. The last third of the season is brutal. No duhhrrr... There are four games in that stretch which fall into the category of games ASU is likely not to win.

Of those four, it seems to me that the likely suspects for winning a game one shouldn't are the Oregon and UCLA games.

As I said earlier, it would be nice to win in Los Angeles, but I'm not holding my breath. But, but…UCLA under Karl Dorrell is just so, so….schizophrenic! If it's going to be one of those games, it will be that one.

Or Oregon…I…just…don't…know!

My other purpose for saying that the last third is brutal is that I hope there's something left in the tank for December 1. Normally, there is a period of time for recuperation and regrouping prior to the Territorial Cup. Not so this season (though things appear to return to normal following this year)). The Devils will likely win the Cup again and Stoops…well, who knows about that place.

Anyway, what does it all mean?

So while the Devils may waltz into Sun Devil Stadium October 27th with a solid 5-1 or spectacular but unlikely 6-0 record, they are almost certain to leave on December 1 with something more like:

8-and-4. Sun Bowl.

Not bad for Erickson's first year on the job. I look forward to it. Along with the next five years.

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