ASU must (Oregon) focus on Buffs (Oregon)

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
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It has been chiseled onto the granite tablets that Glenn “Pop” Warner carried down from Mount Sinai. Here it is, Commandment No. 4: "Thou shalt not look ahead, for if thou, do thou shalt be gnashing thy teeth after thou art whipped."

And, of course, Commandment No. 3 is all about not overlooking any foe, "... for surely then thou shalt be cast into the burning fiery furnace."

Ah, football wisdom. We know it. We love it. We often pay backhanded tribute to it by calling it a "cliché."

But many seemingly high-quality teams through the years, despite their coaches' best efforts, often forget it. Just ask Florida State. Pete Carroll could tell you a few tales from his USC days.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriTodd Graham's Sun Devils will get a chance to make a statement against Oregon -- if they can take care of business against the Buffaloes first.
Arizona State faces the double whammy at Colorado on Thursday. First, if you look at the Buffaloes' résumé -- loss to Colorado State, loss to an FCS team, blowout loss to middling Fresno State squad -- it's not unreasonable to assume an easy victory is shortly forthcoming for Arizona State. Danger!

Second, there isn't anyone in Tempe who doesn't know who's coming to town on Oct. 18. That would be No. 2 Oregon. In the preseason, that game looked like a Ducks walk-over. But new coach Todd Graham has quickly transformed the Sun Devils into a disciplined, efficient, competitive team that is eyeing the national rankings.

The Oregon game will offer an outstanding opportunity for Graham and the Sun Devils to make a national statement about the direction of the program. But -- danger! -- the Sun Devils have to get there first. And an upset loss at Colorado would put a boot print onto those high hopes.

Ducks coach Chip Kelly has done a masterful job of creating a team culture that treats every game the same no matter the outside perception. As impressive as his 40-6 record is, what might be most impressive about it is he's lost only once to an unranked team: Stanford in 2009 (and that very good Stanford team was ranked the next week after beating the Ducks with Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck).

Before Graham's arrival, Arizona State was not known as a team with a culture that produced consistent play. At all. Heck, look no further than last year's team, which was extremely talented but quit when adversity arrived.

Graham said he has not mentioned Oregon this week. But he has pointed to NC State's stunning upset win over FSU and the Sun Devils' horrid performance at Missouri. But a coach can say only so much, can repeat the coaching commandments only so many times. At some point, the locker room needs to take the lead and understand that every opponent merits focused and intense preparation.

"I have said this earlier in the year that coming back from adversity is hard; I think handling success is harder," Graham said. "I think you have to stay hungry, you have stay focused on what you are doing, you have to stay motivated on the opponent that is right in front of you. ... I haven't gotten any sense that our guys are overlooking Colorado."

But then Graham added, "That is the hardest thing about my job -- keeping 18- to 20-year-olds focused on something."

Know that Colorado, which is as healthy as it has been all season, will put up a fight in front of its home fans. Washington State thought it had the Buffs in the bag on Sept. 22, but they came roaring back in the fourth quarter and stole a 35-34 win in Pullman.

Colorado is capable of winning this game if the Sun Devils do not show up, particularly if Buffs quarterback Jordan Webb gets enough time against an aggressive pass rush to exploit a questionable and thin secondary.

Further, if you bracket off the big game with Oregon, a lot of good can happen with a win at Colorado. An impressive performance could push the Sun Devils into the national rankings. And, at 5-1, they'd be one game short of bowl eligibility.

Graham has raised expectations with his fan base. But the fact is the Sun Devils opened 5-1 last year. The true measure of this team will be its consistency through the entire regular season.

"It has everything to do with the mental maturity of your football team," Graham said. "I don't think our guys will have a letdown."

And if they don't, well, then bring on the Ducks.

Ted Miller | email

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