TEMPE, Ariz. — Now the fun begins.
The much-talked about, much-analyzed and perhaps more importantly much-anticipated portion of the Arizona State Sun Devils’ football schedule is here: Three BCS bowl opponents over the next four weeks.
“When I first got here, I was real concerned that we’d be ready to be able to play that kind of schedule. And we’re fixing to find out,” head coach Todd Graham said with a smile.
During his weekly Monday press conference, Graham, a game into his second season with the program, admitted he was more nervous last week while getting ready to play Sacramento State. He noted the number of upsets, of which there were eight FBS teams beaten by FCS, formerly Division I-AA, teams in the first week.
“Those are the ones that make you nervous as heck,” he said.
Of course, ASU had little trouble, if any, against Sacramento State, winning 55-0 last Thursday.
This week, the nervousness Graham said he felt is gone, replaced only by excitement as his team prepares to run the gauntlet through one of the tougher stretches in all of college football.
“(We) get an opportunity to play the Big 10 champion (Wisconsin), and then get the Pac-12 champion (Stanford). (We’ve) got USC and then Notre Dame, a team that played for the National Championship,” he said. “That’s a great opportunity and great exposure for our program — a great opportunity to take our program to the next level.”
The first opportunity comes Saturday when No. 20 Wisconsin visits in a primetime matchup in front of an expected sold out Sun Devil Stadium before a national television audience (ESPN).
Wisconsin is 2-0, having shut out each of its first two opponents.
In addition, Wisconsin possesses one of the better rushing offenses. In each of its first two games, the Badgers have had three 100-yard rushers and are averaging 390 total yards on the ground, second-best in the country.
Graham has made rush defense a priority, especially after ASU ranked 10th in the conference and 81st nationally a year ago (182.8 yards allowed per game).
“There was a great sense of urgency throughout camp,” he said. “We knew exactly what we were going to be facing in Week Two. This is as good a run football and as good a big-play team as we’re going to play. We’ll find out exactly where we’re at when it comes to our run defense, and I’ve got confidence in them.”