My colleague Vince Marotta does not like it when I point to Arizona State's schedule as reason to doubt the Sun Devils.
He tells me it's not ASU's fault their schedule has been favorable, and either way the team is clearly better than most expected it to be.
He's absolutely right.
It's not ASU's fault their schedule has been the NCAA equivalent of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (scary at first, but ultimately soft and defeatable), and the only thing they can do is beat the teams on it. No one can argue they've done an excellent job of that, attaining a 5-1 record through six games -- including a perfect 3-0 mark in the Pac-12. The Devils are rightfully and surprisingly perched atop the Pac-12 South, and no one should try to take that from them.
But alas, Vince is wrong, too.
Former NFL coach Bill Parcells used to say "You are what your record says you are," and in the pros that's generally true. However, the same cannot be said for the college game, as it is obvious not all good starts are created equal.
If they were, a Pac-12 school with only one loss at this point would not be on the outside of the AP Top 25 looking in.
According to Sagarin Ratings, ASU's schedule ranks a healthy 76th in the nation. Of the six teams the Sun Devils have played, only Missouri appears to have any chance at playing in a bowl game, and they are responsible for the only blemish on Arizona State's record.
Some quick research reveals that Arizona State's opponents have combined for a 16-23 record, one that falls to a pitiful 11-22 if you take out FCS Northern Arizona. For
this bitter Arizona fan's sake comparison's sake, Arizona's opponents have tallied a 26-10 record that improves to a ridiculous 24-5 with the removal of FCS South Carolina State. Their schedule ranks eighth in the Sagarin Ratings, by the way.
But I digress. And mourn. But mostly digress.
The Sun Devils beating a bunch of bad teams only means one thing: the Sun Devils are not a bad team.
However, not being bad does not equal being good, and it will take some good wins -- or a good win, really -- to change the minds of doubters and show Todd Graham's crew is, in fact, for real.
I mean, do you really think Taylor Kelly is one of the best QBs in the nation? Are you confident ASU's defense, which has been forced to move play running backs in the secondary, is one of the best in the country, as their No. 9 ranking in points against would imply? Do you hold no doubts anymore about the team's newfound discipline and ability to maintain composure when challenged?
If the answer to all those questions is "yes" you are not one of the people who need to see more from the Sun Devils before buying in. You're probably a die-hard fan and hey, you may be right about this team. As for the rest of us, we want to see more from the team the "experts" predicted would finish fifth -- in the Pac-12 South.
Through no fault of their own, the Sun Devils have not yet had a chance to really prove themselves. Until now.
Arizona State can show it is for real Thursday when they host the Oregon Ducks in front of what is expected to be a sold out and blacked out stadium.
The Pac-12's best team will march into Tempe looking to keep its national championship hopes alive while simultaneously bringing the home team back to earth. The Sun Devils, on the other hand, hope to make a statement to the rest of the country that they are not beneficiaries of a weak schedule, but instead a good team simply doing what good teams do.
ESPN NCAA analyst Mark May believes Oregon will 'beat down' the Sun Devils. I'm not so sure.
What I do know is that no matter the final score, we'll have a much better idea of what this Arizona State team is when this game is over.