ASU has had the worst off-season in college football for any team who hasn't done anything wrong.
I was in a small training room underneath Arizona Stadium following the blocked extra point that won the Duel last December. Lisa Love and Dennis Erickson exchanged an embrace that seemed to include years of frustration being released in one moment.
As I watched the winning locker room celebrate, I thought I was watching the beginning of a journey and not the end. At that moment, I believed this team would compete in the Rose Bowl in 2012. I didn't say compete for a Rose Bowl, I meant ASU would be in the Rose Bowl.
Imagine how the future looked to ASU after that game. It wasn't a stretch to think the off-season would see:
1) Jim Harbaugh leave Stanford
2) Andrew Luck leave Stanford
3) Oregon forced to declare LaMichael James ineligible and possibly face other sanctions
4) Threet getting a whole spring and second season to learn the Mazzone offense
5) A defense that would return almost every starter
Only one of those assumptions didn't prove what happens when you assume. The incorrect middle 2 assumptions keep the Stanford/Oregon winner on pace to reach the Rose Bowl. Andrew Luck decided to return to Stanford and is already tabbed as 2012's first pick in the draft. Oregon is still under investigation but the NCAA is nowhere near making a ruling.
ASU seemed to go from potential Rose Bowl winner to Pac-12 Championship game loser.
There was a ray of hope when Omar Bolden announced he would return to ASU. It would have been a mistake from a draft status stand point to go pro, but it was a major blessing that he listened to sound advice. Unfortunately, that was the end of the good news, because then the Spring came.
In late February, ASU announced that Stephen Threet was retiring from the game. His career was cut short by too many concussions. Sure, Threet made lots of mistakes, but there was a general feeling he would really grow with another spring under Noel Mazzone.
Spring football started with all eyes on Brock Osweiler. It ended with all eyes on the vacancy left by the knee injury to Bolden. With Bolden's loss the defense took a major hit. How scary could the ASU LB's be if one big play receiver was taken away from the QB at the start of every play? Now that fear was gone.
There wasn't a reason to panic, however, because USC was still under sanctions and banned from post-season play. Scared of the possibility of USC winning the Pac-12, the conference announced USC could win the division but not advance to the championship game. Even without Bolden, ASU was still the second best team in the division.
Now it's time for fall camp. Osweiler has had an entire spring to gain control of the offense. The vaunted defense should take center stage and carry the team to a division title. Any chance of something positive coming out of this off-season ended Saturday with the latest scrimmage.
The rough performance of the offense was the least of concerns for ASU. Brandon Magee made it through 7 plays of the 2011 season. He ruptured his Achilles. Magee was an excellent football player but also had a high football IQ. His ability to always be at the right place at the right time allowed others on the defense to take risks. Even if someone else was making the play, it was Magee who read the QB and took away options forcing the opponent into the mistake in the first place.
The Magee news would have been devastating no matter what happened between December 2, 2010 and today. When you combine everything else that's occurred, this is a terrible off-season for ASU and there's no blame to hand out. Arizona and Utah are immediate contenders for a division title.
This season could start 4-0 and the off-season immediately moves into the rear-view mirror. 2-2 would probably bring little attention and a lack of commitment from the fans. 1-3 would mean immediate questions regarding the future of ASU football and maybe even the entire athletic department.
As we prepare for the start of the 2011 college football season, it's strange to think Dennis Erickson could win coach of the year for handling tremendous adversity or win a "vote of confidence" half-way through the year.
The only two certainties in the Pac-12 are Washington State and Colorado will finish last. I think USC wins the South, but I have no idea who wins the prize to play in the Pac-12 championship game. Maybe ASU will have it better when "OFF" is removed and it's time for the SEASON.