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Bowl eligibility next on Sun Devils’ list of modified goals

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham coaches on the sidelines against Oregon in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016 in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Thomas Boyd)

TEMPE, Ariz. — A 5-1 start had the Arizona State football team dreaming much bigger dreams. Injuries, erratic play and perhaps a lack of depth have relegated the 5-4 Sun Devils to simpler goals.

With one home game left on Thursday against Utah before road games at Washington and Arizona, the first of those goals is simply to become bowl eligible. ASU needs one more win to keep its bowl streak alive and extend a school record for consecutive postseason appearances.

“We’ve been to what, five straight — the year before I got here and then four straight while we’ve been here,” coach Todd Graham said Tuesday during his media availability at the Carson Student-Athlete Center. “It’s huge for your program. The extra practice is almost like having another spring practice.”

Graham acknowledged a bowl game would be a worthy accomplishment for such a young team that experienced so much personnel change in the offseason, and so many injuries during it.

“This is the last time our football team is going to play in Sun Devil Stadium this year and it’s the last time (for) these seniors that have done so much for our program,” he said. “We’ve got three games left and obviously if you win those, you get a fourth. If you can win four… that’s what we’re trying to do, but to win four, we’ve got to win one.”

Graham said Tuesday that he expects to have five of his 10 injured starters back for Thursday’s game against the No. 16 Utes, including quarterback Manny Wilkins, running back Demario Richard, defensive backs Kareem Orr, Armand Perry and perhaps linebacker Salamo Fiso.

“The biggest thing has been to get healthy because when we were healthy we were obviously having different results,” Graham said. “We haven’t been healthy for over a month.”

A win by ASU on Thursday might ease the minds of conference officials who would probably rather not have ASU’s bowl prospects come down to the Territorial Cup Game at Arizona after a road game at No. 5 Washington (the new college football playoff rankings will be released Tuesday night).

The Pac-12 currently has just six bowl-eligible teams in Washington (9-0), Colorado (7-2), Utah (7-2), Washington State (7-2), Stanford (6-3) and USC (6-3). If Washington stays unbeaten and earns a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff, that means the Pac-12 can currently fill only five of its remaining seven bowl slots.

Arizona and Oregon State already have seven losses apiece and will probably suffer more, putting them out of the bowl picture even with a handful of 5-7 teams expected to make bowl games due to a shortage of six-win teams. Oregon (3-6) and UCLA (3-6) would need to win out to get to six wins, or at least win two of their final three to get to 5-7 and be considered as replacement teams.

Cal (4-5) needs two wins from games at Washington State, vs. Stanford and vs. UCLA. The Bears might have a hard time qualifying as a 5-7 team due to their APR (academic progress rate) score.

If ASU can beat Utah, it would leave only one remaining bowl slot the Pac-12 might be unable to fill: the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl at Chase Field.

“That’s something that is a minimum expectation for us,” Graham said. “Our goals are much higher than that.”

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