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Leave Vontaze Burfict alone!

Note from the author: the column you are about to read
was not easy for me to write. As an Arizona fan and alum I
die a little inside every time I defend anything related
to Arizona State, but my duty as a columnist pushed me to
this point. I’m sorry, Wilbur.

This has not been an easy week for Vontaze Burfict.

The Arizona State linebacker, regarded as one of the best
players in the country and a top NFL Draft pick whenever
he chooses to go pro, has been a constant target for

Doug Franz, Bruce Feldman, Mark May and Bob Davie all spoke this week about the
junior’s struggles, with the conversation ranging from his
falling draft stock to dumb penalties costing his team.

They’re all right. They’re all wrong.

On the season the linebacker has 36 tackles, four sacks,
one interception, a few passes defensed and a handful of
personal foul penalties. He’s been more role player than
star, just one member of a defense that has helped the Sun
Devils reach a 5-2 record and take a stranglehold of the
Pac-12 South.

But, as my
colleague Vince Marotta pointed out
, the player is
just not living up to the hype. That doesn’t make him a
bad player, just not the guy fans expected – or wanted.

Football, as we all know, is an emotional game. Burfict is
at his best when he’s playing mean, a terror opposing
offenses have to not only gameplan for, but be wary of
even after the whistle blows.

It’s why Sporting News named him the “meanest man in
college football” before the season and the entire package
– dumb penalties included – was good enough for most
people because even with his faults Burfict was just a
damn good football player.

But the emotion of seeing Burfict draw what were some
admittedly questionable flags in Oregon combined with the
thought of him underachieving has caused analysts and ASU
fans alike to turn on the player who, in all honesty, is
still the team’s best pro prospect.

Think about it: how many people, all of a sudden, are
touting QB Brock Osweiler as the next great NFL QB? Too
many, really. The junior has been solid, but not great.
He’s tossed 15 touchdown passes against eight
interceptions and completed 66 percent of his passes for
an average of 7.60 yards per attempt.

Osweiler’s QB rating is 142.8, which is good enough for
43rd in the country. His 15 touchdown passes tie him
for 18th and his eight picks are the seventh-most in FBS,
just behind such great passers as Denard Robinson and Sean

Does Osweiler have potential? Absolutely. Has he been
great this year? No, but it’s amazing what expectations
can do for one’s perception, seeing how most of the
conversations have praised the QB but trashed the team’s
stud linebacker.

Expectations can be a real, well, you know.

The good news for Burfict is that there are still seven
games left for the linebacker (yes, I’m assuming ASU
reaches the Pac-12 championship game and then a bowl game
after that) to step up his level of play and add to his
resume, and his team’s success should give him a little
leeway as far as what people really think of him this

Because, when you really get down to it, Burfict has gone
from being a great player on a lousy team to a decent
player (who has the ability to be great) on a good one.

Is that really worth criticizing?