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Dan Bickley

ASU’s road to national relevance begins with trap game vs. Colorado

Head coach Herm Edwards of the Arizona State Sun Devils during warm ups to the NCAAF game against the Sacramento State Hornets at Sun Devil Stadium on September 06, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Arizona State is home to innovation. Parking tickets. Sleeping giants. Hangover breakfasts. And trap games.

The latter isn’t a myth.

Look at their history. The program has an awful, hateful relationship with prosperity. They can see the trap games coming. They just can’t stop them. Or win them.

This is the next hurdle for Herm Edwards.

These are crazy times in the Pac-12, a conference that can’t field a playoff team but just placed two teams in a four-team series on HBO. They are the SEC of reality television. Meanwhile, ASU is showing signs of awakening the sleeping giant.

The Sun Devils are ranked and unbeaten, fresh off an impact win at Michigan State. Ongoing mediocrity at USC and the spectacular failure of Chip Kelly at UCLA has left the state of California vulnerable for poachers. It’s rarely been easier for other schools to swoop in and steal their best football players.

ASU has made great strides in Southern California. The celebrity of Edwards, the credibility of Antonio Pierce and the addition of Marvin Lewis have boosted ASU’s profile on the Left Coast. They have ESPN in their corner.

That’s the good news. But the Sun Devils have to move fast if they want to join the elite. They have to win games now, and here’s why:

The state of California could pass legislation allowing in-state athletes to make money in endorsements, to profit off their talent. Lawmakers behind this effort want to combat the greed of the NCAA, a sport that has thrived on free labor for too long.

It would also tilt the playing field back in the favor of USC and UCLA, just when those programs need it the most.

Either way, the fortunes of USC will change very soon. They have a delusional fan base, lost in time, lovers of a good parade. Many are not happy with how the program shifted to the Air Raid offense during the offseason, hiring an offensive coordinator who left them hanging, bolting for the NFL before coaching a down. The stage is set for an Urban Meyer takeover, and we all know what that means.

Unless ASU offers a better story. A head coach who doesn’t insult, demean or break promises. A head coach who has extensive NFL contacts, and gives increasingly-empowered, independent athletes a different kind of college experience. Namely, an ally and not a tyrant.

The timing is also crucial given the sad state of their current television contracts, where Pac-12 teams receive little exposure and awful starting times in exchange for more money. That means you have to be really good to get noticed in the Pac-12. You can’t lose trap games along the way.

That’s why this is a sprint for ASU and not a marathon. They must slay their own tendencies and seize the moment. After beating Michigan State in 2018, the Sun Devils lost four of their next five games. That can’t happen again. Even though it always happens.

After an 8-0 start in his rookie season on campus, Dennis Erickson became a losing head coach. Todd Graham was the ultimate tease, winning more games than he lost, overselling more often than he delivered.

Edwards needs to chart a new course starting now. And while 28 freshmen received priceless experience in their gritty win at Michigan State, they are still freshmen, naïve to the dangers of a trap game, the kind they can’t see until it’s too late.

The kind staring them in the face … just as they celebrate their new status, their Top 25 ranking and their upcoming Oct. 16th appearance on HBO. The television program will air just before a crucial road game at Utah, after games against Colorado, Cal and Washington State.

Are they good enough to win a division title and an Emmy? This much is certain: Survive the trap games and ASU could be in line for an impact season, on the field and off.

Around here, that’s easier said than done.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier