Bill Slane

Sun Devils Take Small Steps to Big Goals

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Despite falling just short of what they had been hoping for, Sun Devil Nation surely has bought in to Todd Graham. In just his second season in Tempe, Graham took a team that finished 4th in the Pac-12 South the season before his arrival, to the best record in the entire conference. Graham and his staff have lofty goals laid out of for the future, but even though they are taking small steps, they will get there.

The culture that Graham has instilled in the locker room in Tempe is what the staff for the Sun Devils should be most proud. In two years, Graham turned one of the most penalized teams in the nation to one of the least penalized. Graham has his players playing like champions. Champions do not make silly mental errors during the game that costs their team valuable field position. This season, Arizona State was flagged for 49 penalties (380 yards), which is good enough to put them in the top-15 in the nation for the least amount of penalties. The season before Graham took the job at ASU, the Sun Devils had 104 penalties for over 1000 yards.

In 2011, Dennis Erickson’s final year in Tempe, the Sun Devils finished 6-7 and lost embarrassingly to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Graham took over in 2012 where the Sun Devils finished the year with the team’s first winning season since 2007, a Territorial Cup victory, and a Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl win. Small steps.

Now in 2013, the Sun Devils made a huge leap under Graham. The team clinched their first Pac-12 South division title with the best record in the division. While the team was not able to take advantage of the home field advantage in the Pac-12 title game, the future is still bright for the team. A trip to the Holiday Bowl only solidifies that the program, installed by Graham in Tempe, is working. This program can win a championship.

It’s not all roses (pun intended) for the Sun Devils. The team is going to be losing a great group of seniors after the bowl game. Alden Darby, Robert Nelson, Chris Coyle, Evan Finkenberg, Marion Grice, Will Sutton, and more will all be playing their final game as a Sun Devil in San Diego. Those are players that the team is going to need to replace in order to keep the momentum of this season going into 2014. Some of the commits that ASU currently has for next season could contribute right away, but the team will also be looking for young players in the program, like Chans Cox, to make an impact next year.

The one bright side on offense is that many key parts on that side of ball will be returning in 2014. Taylor Kelly, Jaelen Strong, and DJ Foster all will be returning next season and will be looking to continue toward their goal of being Pac-12 champions.

It is very clear to any Sun Devil fan that Graham truly believes that Arizona State is a contender, not only for the Pac-12 title and the Rose Bowl, but for a national championship. On December 30th Graham will look for his second bowl win in as many years as he continues to take small steps to the goals he detailed when he arrived in Tempe.

 

Photo by Clintus McGintus on Flickr

 

About Bill Slane

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