Saturday’s season opener for the 15th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils had a very Griswoldian feel to it.
The hype for their game against Texas A&M was off the charts. Hell, it was the first time the Sun Devils had opened on the road or against a Power Five conference team since 2002 (before Power Five was even a thing.)
ASU arrived in to their own personal Wally World in Houston and were basically told by Aggie defenders Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall and Donovan Wilson “sorry folks, park’s closed.”
The Texas A&M defense dominated in a 38-17 win over the Sun Devils that was closer than the final score would indicate, but still a decisive loss.
An ASU victory would have pushed the optimism about this team into the stratosphere. A loss has had the opposite effect, as evidenced by my very own Twitter timeline.
@Vincemarotta ASU can make anybody look good… I'm a believer that the devils just aren't that good.
— kevin deela (@kdeela) September 6, 2015
@Vincemarotta This is Todd Graham's best team since taking over in Tempe? Hahahahahaha
— JRich (@MajorRichardSun) September 6, 2015
— Joshers (@stinkydog480) September 6, 2015
@Vincemarotta this just feels like typical ASU football, just like ND highs hopes poor showing
— ryan reed (@mrryanreed2011) September 6, 2015
@Vincemarotta the point is we can't play on the big stage EVER!!! You can say by to being rankes
— Chris Martinez (@cmarti602) September 6, 2015
@Vincemarotta another big game, and we look foolish on national stage. Won't ever get over the hump
— E (@E_Devil_15) September 6, 2015
@Vincemarotta Until ASU can keep our best players here in state they'll remain the"sleeping giant" nighty night!
— LarryinTempe (@LarryNiemi) September 6, 2015
@Vincemarotta just so sick of this crap every year. ASU should be competing for NC regularly. Not good enough for this university.
— Jordan Evans (@jbobevans1) September 6, 2015
Sorry to tell you disappointed ASU fans, Mike Bercovici wasn’t going to win the Heisman and the Sun Devils weren’t winning a national championship. But a spot in the College Football Playoff remains a possibility. I wouldn’t predict that to happen — in fact, I didn’t have the Devils in the CFP even before Saturday’s loss. But the possibility remains.
But let’s jump into some of these arguments, shall we?
• ASU can’t perform on the big stage: Fact, the Devils are 7-4 against ranked teams since the beginning of the 2013 season. That includes a win at UCLA that clinched the Pac-12 South crown in 2013 and a 24-point dismantling of 10th-ranked Notre Dame in Tempe last year. Yes, Saturday provided them an opportunity for another “signature win”, but ASU was beaten by a better football team, plain and simple.
• Todd Graham can’t recruit the state of Arizona: While it is true that many of the best high school players have gone elsewhere to play college ball recently (and two of them had big hands in Texas A&M’s win Saturday), some are staying home. While I’m disappointed that Christian Kirk, Kyle Allen and Qualen Cunningham were all suited up for the other side in Houston, it’s understandable. Texas A&M has incredible recruiting advantages. Kids can play home games in front of 102,000 fans at Kyle Field every week. Football in Texas is a religion, not an option like it is here in the desert. Multiply that by the fact that the Aggies are in the SEC and have a football facility that more resembles the Taj Majal than a locker room, and the choice becomes even more clear.
Since 2010, the state of Arizona has produced 31 four- or five-star recruits, according to Rivals.com. ASU, Oregon and UCLA have all landed five of them — and one, Christian Westerman, originally went to Auburn before transferring back to Tempe for his junior and senior seasons.
The reality is, the competition to land these kids is immense and Arizona State is a factor in most of their decisions.
• ASU should be competing for a national championship every year: This one, I just don’t get. Yes, the Arizona State program has a good history, but their appearances in the top five or their flirtations with a national championship (1975, 1997) have been few and far between. The Sun Devils haven’t been a perennial top-ten team since the 1970s under legendary head coach Frank Kush. You want to know why? Kush’s teams played in the Western Athletic Conference. From 1970 to 1975 — a run which included five conference championships for ASU — only one other WAC team, the 1975 Arizona Wildcats, finished in the season-ending AP Poll. The Sun Devils were good, but they were feasting on less-than-stellar competition. They were the 70s version of Boise State. Life in the Pac-10/Pac-12 is much, much more difficult.
To get to that level, you need an elite coach who is going to stick around and help build the culture. Graham may be that guy. Don’t scoff. In the seven seasons before Nick Saban got to Alabama, the Crimson Tide were 46-40 and had three different head coaches. Since Saban’s arrival, they’re 92-17 and have won three national championships.
The big point in all of this is, one game doesn’t make a season. We’re all disappointed that the “high-octane” offense of ASU was reduced to a frustrating dink-and-dunk attack by Texas A&M Saturday. But it’s likely the Sun Devils won’t face that level of front-seven talent again this season, even in Pac-12 play.
This team will bounce back.