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Texas A&M, the singular focus for Arizona State Sun Devils entering 2015

Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici (2) scrambles under pressure from UCLA linebacker Deon Hollins during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. – With success comes expectation, and the expectations are high for the Arizona State Sun Devils in 2015.

Back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since the early 1970s, 16 returning starters — including nine on defense — plus a fifth-year senior at quarterback landed ASU at No. 15 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll.

It’s their highest preseason ranking since 2008, when the Sun Devils also ranked 15th.

Meanwhile, media members who regularly cover the Pac-12 picked Todd Graham’s club to finish second in the South Division, with three choosing ASU to win the conference championship game, the third-most votes behind only USC (21) and Oregon (17).

And then there is ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, one of the sport’s most prominent voices, who believes the Sun Devils will not only win the Pac-12, but also make an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

“Smart guy,” Graham said this week, laughing.

Herbstreit projected ASU to be joined in the four-team playoff by Ohio State, the defending national champions, LSU and Oklahoma.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” Graham continued.  “Somebody asked me the other day.  Is that a big deal to you?  Man, yeah. Man, it’s gratifying.  We’ve worked our tail off to put ourselves in position that obviously someone of Kirk’s knowledge and prestige would pick us in the top four.

“We liked it.  Our kids liked it.  It doesn’t mean anything.  We appreciate it. It’s a show of respect.  This is like preseason rankings, do they matter?  Yeah, if you ain’t in them, you weren’t very good the year before.”

The Sun Devils flirted with the College Football Playoff last season after beating Notre Dame on Nov. 8.  A loss, however, the following week at Oregon State ended that discussion.

ASU’s road to this year’s national championship game, which will be played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, begins Saturday against Texas A&M in Houston.

“We’ve had a lot of people come up to us and talk to us throughout the — whether it be spring ball, fall camp, motivated people,” quarterback Mike Bercovici said.  “We’ve had leadership meetings where we’re excited and we know what the capability of this football team is, and that’s why we created that mindset of going 1-0, where what we can control is our attitude and effort every single day to beat Texas A&M on Saturday.

“Obviously there are great accolades that are coming out about this football team, but we’re not really worried about that.”

That may be the case, but the expectations placed on this season’s Sun Devils certainly beats the alternative.

“We just can’t get distracted,” Graham said.  “Our big thing has been really coach, coach, teach, teach, and be ready. That’s one of the reasons we scheduled this game.  This puts us right out of the gate in a hurry in that kind of pressure cooker, and we’re hoping this will be the first of many big ones we get to play in.  The biggest thing is just not thinking too far ahead.

“We haven’t won a championship yet, but we’re getting where I think we can compete and do that.  I think the biggest obstacle when it comes to being — to reaching that goal and being there is just, you know, getting better every day and staying healthy.”

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