Lose Carl Bradford and Will Sutton. Hold Utah to 57 yards passing.
Get Blitzkrieged by UCLA. Go 4-0 on the road.
Lose your starting quarterback. Go 2-1 with your backup quarterback.
Todd Graham was torched by the national media when he came to Arizona State. Interestingly enough, the national media has not run to recant. Many were rooting against Graham so they could say he deserved the losses. They wanted the karma to catch up.
ASU has lost one regular season conference game since the beatdown suffered at Stanford early last year. Arizona State’s defense was gutted, but it’s playing even better than last year.
There are some great coaches in college football. This year, none of them are coaching better than Graham.
The Arizona State job is one of the most difficult in the country. Although the high school football talent continues to improve, there’s not enough of it to sustain an elite program. ASU has to recruit well in California, where three conference powers live.
This year, ASU has had home games against a preseason-predicted playoff team, a rematch of the conference championship game and a battle of top-20 opponents for the early November division lead, yet an apathetic fan base has yet to sell out a game in a stadium that has had its capacity drastically reduced.
Despite all of the reasons that make average the norm, Graham keeps winning.
Utah has dominant special teams. ASU completely shut down the kick and punt return game of Utah, save for one kickoff return. In great irony, special teams lost the game for Utah and won it for Arizona State.
It’s amazing to say this, but ASU is in the conversation to be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. Obviously, a torching by Notre Dame would end that talk quickly, but that’s not the point.
The point is look up and down ASU’s roster and point out the NFL first-round draft choices. How long would the list be of second- and third-round choices? Graham is winning and almost every night, NFL scouts are looking at the talent on the other team. It should be impossible for any coach to put themselves into the playoff conversation even for a week under the same conditions, yet Graham is doing it.
Look out national media: Your bias will be severely tested if ASU finishes the year strong. They’ve already played one November game, and Graham is clearly the coach of the year for the first two months of the season.
When the national media descend on Tempe next weekend, it will have to accept that its hopes of a Graham failure have descended, too.