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Bowl eligibility, Graham’s future on line when ASU faces Oregon State

Arizona State coach Todd Graham, left, argues with an official during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Washington on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

There will be two major storylines at play when Arizona State (5-5) takes on Oregon State in Corvallis on Saturday: the Sun Devils’ quest to achieve bowl eligibility and coach Todd Graham’s future.

The latter will be a matter of speculation for the next two weeks. When asked about it on Tuesday, Sun Devils Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson said it is “not inappropriate” to comment “at this time,” and that he “will not comment” on Graham’s future “until after the regular season ends.”

When asked about his future after his Tuesday press conference, Graham took the same approach he has taken all season long.

“I don’t worry about that,” he said. “You guys like talking about that.”

It’s difficult to gauge what Anderson is thinking. The Sun Devils are 5-5 on the heels of 6-7 and 5-7 seasons. With wins against the Beavers (1-9), Arizona (7-3) and in a bowl game, ASU could finish 8-5, including a win over then-No. 5 Washington and their in-state rival. That would likely be enough for Graham.

A loss in one of the next two games would leave ASU playing for a 7-6 or 6-7 record. Losses the next two weeks would leave them out of a bowl game and with a losing record for the second straight season. Neither of those scenarios looks favorable.

“We’ve done some pretty quality things but we’ve fallen short of our goal of being Pac-12 champions, competing for that championship, but that doesn’t mean to minimize that it’s not important to go to bowl games,” Graham said. “That is vital. That has to happen each year because it hurt us tremendously last year losing those practices and I think losing that confidence you have.

“We had four straight bowl games, so this is important. Don’t get me wrong. I guarantee you I’m emphasizing how important it is, every game we win, but to be bowl eligible and to go into the postseason is something that’s very, very important to keep building a program.”

If ASU beats Oregon State it will do just that, but the win looks easier on the surface than it is in reality. Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes and former coach Gary Andersen agreed to part ways after a 1-5 start. Since then, OSU’s two home losses under interim coach Cory Hall have come by three points and one point respectively to Colorado (36-33) and Stanford (15-14).

Graham is 0-2 in Corvallis, with losses in 2012 and 2014, and the Sun Devils have lost their last five games at Oregon State overall.

“We can control two things, the next two games,” Graham said. “The one in front of us is the most important. We’ve got to go on the road to do it and we know it’s going be a challenge.”

Quarterback Manny Wilkins hopes to give the seniors, including Kalen Ballage, Demario Richard and A.J. Latu, a parting gift.

“They’ve invested so much in this program and put so much sweat on the field, blood on the field,” Wilkins said. “They’ve been hurt, they’ve been mentally hurt, they have so much invested in this program that’s it’s important to me to give the best experience to them as possible and we’re going to do that. We’re going to have an opportunity. We will get to where we need to be, to get to a bowl game.”

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