Steve Rodriguez/ASU Athletics
For Arizona State, Thursday night's nationally televised matchup with the Oregon Ducks is more about emerging as a program on the rise, regardless of whether or not the Sun Devils win or lose.
Let's get one thing out of the way before we go on this journey. I'm extremely excited for Thursday night's game against the Oregon Ducks. It's a Thursday night, prime time explosion of awesome that will put our 71,706 (don't worry - it'll sell out) on display for the world to see and hear.
Beyond that, America will truly be introduced to the new look Arizona State Sun Devils - a team that is so radically different than previous iterations of this team that anyone who hasn't watched our team in a while may not recognize immediately.
It's going to be loud, it's going to be rowdy, it's going to be a challenge and it's going to be, in the words of Ed Olczyk, tremendously tremendous.
It could also be a thud of a loss, and we need to tuck that into the back of our heads.
Far be it from me to put the brakes on an orgy, because I'm the first, second and third people to dance like a fool to Apache if the Sun Devils are able to pull off a massive upset. But no matter how much time goes by, how many players cycle in and out of this program and how much different now is than then, I haven't been able to stop thinking about Oct. 16, 2004.
You probably remember it. You may have been there, like I was. That was the day that the 5-0 Sun Devils, brimming with confidence and a sexy top 15 ranking, cruised into Los Angeles to take on the mighty USC Trojans. It was a hideous (but strikingly pleasant, weather wise) afternoon of football at the Coliseum. Arizona State was down 42-7 at the half while Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and that Trojan defense chased ASU back east on I-10.
But you know what happened after that? The sun came up and the Sun Devils won again. Four more times, to be exact, including that memorable victory over Purdue in the Sun Bowl.
Make no mistake about the enormous strides that the Sun Devils have made in just six games. I certainly didn't think they'd be 5-1 going into the Oregon game, and you won't find too many people who will. Can Arizona State beat Oregon? Certainly. The idealist in all of us says that anyone can beat anyone on any given Saturday. Ask 42-point underdog Stanford in 2007 about that.
But in reality? We're still talking about the Oregon Ducks, the runaway class of the Pacific-12 Conference and national championship contender. When it comes to talent, skill and speed, they're eons ahead of everyone in this league and 95 of college football as a whole.
I liken this season so far as watching a toddler grow up and do everything for the first time. The Todd Graham era, after all, is in its infancy. Thus far, we've seen the Devils take their first steps (NAU and Illinois), face adversity for the first time (Missouri and California) and master the fundamentals (Utah and Colorado). Now, they get another brand new toy under CTG as a reward.
For the first time, they take on an elite opponent with the eyes of America on them, and beyond that, they finally get a true measuring stick of where this team is right now and, perhaps more importantly, where they'll be over the last half of this season and into the future.
As incredulous as I am to admit it, I actually agree with Doug Franz from Sports 620 KTAR (for perhaps the first time ever). He wrote Monday that this game is more about showing the nation that the spark behind Arizona State football is back, and now it's time to prove it with a strong showing in all facets - discipline, strong play and exuberant fan support.
"Todd Graham has the opportunity to completely remake his national image," Franz writes. "The players have the chance of a lifetime because this game will feel like a major bowl game." Doug couldn't be more right about any of this.
Maybe Arizona State comes out and pulls off a massive upset. Perhaps they hang tough with the Ducks and lose a tight one.
Or maybe they lose going away by 25.
My point is that if it's the latter (and the latter is more likely a scenario than any of us will readily admit), don't come crashing back down and get sour again. 2012 has already succeeded far beyond anyone's expectations thus far this season. This Thursday night is more about the resurgence of our program than the result.
Go to Sun Devil Stadium. Perhaps don't say a whole lot between now and Thursday to save your voice and your lung capacity. Have sick leave saved up? Put it in for Friday.
I'm going to enjoy ASU/Oregon for what it is - the coming out of a team, win or lose, that we can be proud of once again.