Arizona State coach Todd Graham says the Sun Devils have already gotten past the easy part.
"I think you come in and win eight ball games and then come in and win 10 ball games, going to the conference championship, doing the things that we've done to this point has been, really, the easy part," he told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday. "The hard part now is to go win the conference championship.
"Anything short of that, people are going to be disappointed."
He's probably right.
Since taking over for Dennis Erickson following the 2011 season, Graham has instilled a level of discipline and confidence in the team that has not been seen for a while. The result has been a pair of surprisingly successful seasons that have now positioned the program to take the next step and go from good to elite.
"The hard part starts now; the margin for error is so small," he said.
That's not to say Graham isn't confident. The third-year Sun Devil coach believes this will be the best offensive team he's had in Tempe and is confident they'll be much improved on special teams.
But as is the case in college football, Graham and the Devils will also be looking to replace departed talent, much of which was on the defensive side of the ball. Among the players who left were defensive lineman Will Sutton, who was the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the year, along with safety Alden Darby and linebackers Chris Young and Carl Bradford.
Last season, ASU ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring defense but allowed the fourth-fewest yards per game. Along with the explosive offense it was enough to win the Pac-12 South. But with so many key players gone, people are concerned that the Devils may struggle to stop opponents.
"We're going to be very young on defense, but on the same end, I've got a lot of confidence that we've signed a really good class," the coach said. "We'll be young, but I think people will be surprised at how good we will be on defense."