Last year did not actually go as planned.
The year before, too.
It would be quicker to stress that ASU Football never really meets expectations suggested at some point during the preseason. Exceeding or falling short of expectations is kind of encrypted in Sun Devil DNA.
(And let’s be honest, football is not the only sport infected).
In 2016, the first few weeks were mildly reassuring with 5 wins against lesser competition, including UCLA and arguably the most insane game of the year against Texas Tech.
Arizona State was holding a 5-1 record at this point, alongside an FBS record of touchdowns in a game (eight) thanks to Kalen Ballage’s destruction of the Red Raiders in Week 2.
And then, it all went down in flames incredibly quickly.
Six straight losses with 37 points conceded in all of them. The Sun Devils literally imploded against Pac-12 teams, and this free fall came to a severe end during the Territorial Cup.
I, and pretty much every ASU fans, still can’t fathom how the Sun Devils dropped the rivalry game against the Wildcats. A travesty that led to missing the bowl season (like they were even deserving of playing in a meaningless game).
Let’s put this disaster in our rear-view mirror and dive into what is likely to shape ASU’s next season. Spoiler alert: it might not be glorious.
Bowl eligibility will be hard to reach
Last season marked the first time under Todd Graham’s tenure that ASU missed the bowl season. Alright, it happens. It really shouldn’t in today’s college football landscape, especially considering the strength of ASU’s athletic department.
But let’s call it the circle of life.
In the span of three years, the Sun Devils went from a 10-3 overall record, a Sun Bowl victory and a 12th place in the final AP Top 25 to a 5-7 overall record with no (vacation trip to another sunny destination) bowl at the end of the season.
It must end in 2017. There is no way the football program could remain intact without a postseason berth.
The monetary and recruiting stakes, which drive college football as we know it today in terms of exposure and ultimately, success, are too high. Arizona State’s AD, Ray Anderson, has developed a powerful athletic department over the years and he, like any other AD of big-time schools, has been betting on football success to sustain his dreams of national dominance in a wide array of sports.
Football is like the heart of a body: if it does not function properly, the rest of the organs does not either.
The recruiting arms race in basically every sport, the rocketing costs of upgrading facilites (and in ASU’s situation, the $225 million Sun Devil Stadium renovation), the funding of non-revenue programs which fuel Arizona State’s national brand, etc...
It all goes through football success, to some degree.
ASU football head coach Todd Graham seems to be on the hot seat in 2017. That’s not surprising at all, even if we only consider the stunning defensive regression over the last couple years.
He did not receive his annual contract extension during the offseason, like he had the first four years of his time in Tempe. Ray Anderson keeps hinting over and over again that ASU Football has to win now.
Despite all the pressure surrounding the football program and its supervisor, bowl eligibility could be a really difficult task to complete.
Looking at this coming season’s schedule, it is rather complicated to pick out 6 projected wins out of it:
Arizona State Football Wins in 2017
|New Mexico State
|San Diego State
|@ Texas Tech
|@ Oregon State
Tossups ftw, it can only go well (wait, what?)
It looks like the 2017 season could be decided by tossups at first glance, something that slowly but surely becomes integrated within ASU’s traditions.
If the Sun Devils go 1-2 in these games noted right above, which is entirely feasible, the overall record could locate itself around 6-6. But it does not really take into account the terrible mid-season stretch with Oregon, Stanford, Washington Utah and USC in back-to-back weeks.
6 wins would offer bowl eligibility to the Sun Devils. Hooray!
But in hindsight, would it even be enough to please Ray Anderson’s standards? Would it keep the ASU fanbase satisfied of Todd Graham, leading to the head coach firing or not? Would on-field improvements complete a potentially average record?
Only time will tell.
Nonetheless, it seems crucial for ASU to earn more than 6 wins (and preferably 1 or 2 wins against big-time opponents) to get the rhythm going again.
Theoretical wins might not be the only issue at hand right now.
The Sun Devils declining success could be blamed on the ever-changing coaching staff, players inexperience on both sides of the ball and/or defensive brutal collapse. These factors will definitely play a major role again in 2017.
They are not really positives when you rely on winning tossups.
But one issue at a time, and God knows there are many at ASU.