ESPN lists Arizona State among underachievers in college football history

Aug 11, 2021, 1:51 PM | Updated: 3:40 pm
Wide receiver Brandon Pierce #85 of the Arizona State Sun Devils runs past the Pat Tillman statue b...
Wide receiver Brandon Pierce #85 of the Arizona State Sun Devils runs past the Pat Tillman statue before the NCAAF game against the Washington State Cougars at Sun Devil Stadium on October 12, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

When it comes to the Arizona State Sun Devils, there’s no questioning whether it is a football or basketball school historically.

And especially when comparing ASU to the Arizona Wildcats — its rival and former national champion in men’s basketball — Arizona State will always be remembered as a football school.

But when it comes to both national and conference success in terms of trophies, that’s where the Sun Devils have been continuing to come up short despite some pretty promising seasons.

ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg came up with six underachievers tiers in college football and placed ASU in tier III, which was dubbed as “well-located schools that can’t break through.”

In the 1970s, Arizona State emerged as college football’s newest Western power, recording five AP top-13 finishes, five Fiesta Bowl wins and a No. 2 final ranking in 1975 under coach Frank Kush. ASU recorded No. 4 finishes in 1986 and 1996, but no top-10s since and only four poll finishes since 1997 (none in the past six years). Despite an appealing location in a growing city, increased resources and a massive student body/alumni network, ASU remains a sleeping giant. The Sun Devils haven’t won a league title since 2007 and own only one South Division title (2013). Other than consecutive 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014, they haven’t won more than eight games since 2007.

That No. 4 finish in 1996 came as a result of ASU’s only loss that season to the eventual No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl by a score of 20-17.

The likes of legendary Sun Devils Jake Plummer and the late Pat Tillman were featured on the team.

The loss also marks the last time Arizona State competed for a Rose Bowl, with the school’s only victory coming in 1987 over the Michigan Wolverines.

In the last 15 years, ASU has been ranked as high as No. 6 in the country twice (2007 and 2014), but multiple losses to conference opponents late in the year derailed any hopes of the Sun Devils bringing home their first-ever claimed national title.

Other Pac-12 schools to crack the list feature Pac-12 South rivals the UCLA Bruins — who came in tier II (I-10 tier) along with Texas and Texas A&M — and the USC Trojans, who were placed in the “lost-glory” tier IV along with Miami, Michigan, Nebraska and Tennessee.

The California Golden Bears were the last Pac-12 team to be named, as they were placed in the “bowled-over” tier VI for schools that “simply making bowl games is a challenge” along with Illinois and Syracuse.

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ESPN lists Arizona State among underachievers in college football history