Texas trip offers challenge, benefit for Arizona State football
TEMPE, Ariz. – The long pause spoke volumes.
Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham is not a fan of college football played on Friday nights.
“I’m a former Texas high school coach,” he said, when asked his thoughts on the topic, “so I’ll just leave it at that.”
Friday night is reserved for high school football, Saturday is college football and Sunday is for the National Football League; that’s the opinion many share, including Graham.
But as the sport’s popularity has grown, so too has fans’ appetites. They want more, regardless of what night of the week the game may fall on.
This week’s ASU game at University of Texas at San Antonio will be played on Friday. It was moved from its Saturday slot back in April to accommodate TV.
The one day difference may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Coaches are creatures of habit, meaning they operate on a schedule.
Graham admitted he and his staff did feel a bit squeezed with 24 hours less to prepare. Even so, ASU did maintain its regular practice schedule, fitting in their normal Thursday work before flying out to San Antonio in the early afternoon.
“We’ll just get to play a little quicker,” Graham said.
The players didn’t seem to mind the change.
“Just game-planning,” quarterback Manny Wilkins said, referring to the challenges of a shorter week. “But we’ll be good. We’ll go out there and we’ll handle business.”
The other challenge the Sun Devils face this week is being away from home.
“Big challenge for us because it’s new,” offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. “We haven’t been on the road yet, this 2016 team, so it’s something we’re definitely excited about, but at the same time we want to make sure we prepare the right way. The week is a little shorter. So a lot of new things involved this week. We got to make sure we do a really good job of taking care of the little things.”
ASU is 9-5 in its last 14 road contests.
The Sun Devils will be playing in front of small crowd. Seating capacity for the Alamodome is just over 36,000, though UTSA attracted less than 23,000 in its season opener.
“It’s just a different atmosphere and different experience, playing somewhere that’s not Sun Devil Stadium,” running back Kalen Ballage said. “Our fans that we’re used to seeing and our surroundings, just being in a different place, we’re going to have to adjust and play our brand of football.”
The challenges this week certainly don’t outweigh the benefits, however.
For one, ASU will enjoy an extra day of rest—and prep time for the coaches—before entering Pac-12 play. They’ll be featured on national TV, on ESPN2, offering exposure for the program, both this year and years to come. And it also aids recruiting, which may be the biggest benefit of all.
This marks the third time in four years the Sun Devils will play in Texas, a state where ASU finds a lot of its talent. In fact, it ranks No. 3 among the top four recruiting states for Graham in his five seasons in Tempe, according to SunDevilSource.com.
“Texas is our third-largest alumni base,” he said, also reflecting a true statement. “Obviously, that is my home state, we recruit there and we have a lot of current players from that state so that’s why we like to play there. It is hard to recruit in a place that we don’t play. Texas is a very significant area for us to recruit.”