Thursday night's game against Oregon was a disaster, but it is far from the end of the world
"We're still in first place."
As badly as Thursday night's loss to Oregon hurt, it doesn't knock Arizona State from the the lead position of the Pac-12 South.
As awful as the Sun Devils were in getting blitzkrieged over the game's first 20 minutes, it doesn't undo all the tremendous progress the program has made over the last few months.
As embarrassing as the nationally televised beatdown was, it's just one game.
Sitting at the podium in the postgame press conference after his team's 43-21 loss to Oregon, Todd Graham was able to keep things in the proper perspective.
"We have a good football team and it's just one game. So we go to next week," he said. "This next week is a big, big game in the South and even with a poor showing tonight, we're still in first place. We have to go to work and UCLA is the next one up and we have to figure out how to win that one."
It may be hard to see that Graham's right, given the sequence and speed of last night's events. Thursday's game was excellent for 49 seconds, and an exercise in misery management for the other 59 minutes and 11 seconds.
Will Sutton, the All-American caliber defensive tackle, was lost on the game's second play. The Duck offense did their best Flock of Seagulls tribute en route to 406 yards, and their defense kept the Sun Devils in check until well into garbage time.
That sucks. A lot. It was made all the more difficult to accept thanks to all of the pregame hype that was generated heading into the game.
Even before the Sun Devils took on Colorado last week, the ASU marketing department was hyping this game with advertisements and a clever back-and-forth video battle with Oregon. The bright lights of ESPN and darkness of the Blackout gave game day the feel of a major event. But more than anything, the team's surprisingly strong start had us believing the team could hang with the big boys.
We're 5-1! We've beat the hell out Illinois, Cal and Utah! Oregon, you're next!
That helped obscure the recent past.
It was only eight weeks ago when the popular opinion about the 2012 Sun Devils was a team that was going to be in a battle to stay out of the division's basement. The Pac-12 media selected them to finish fifth just ahead of Colorado, and four to five wins was seen as their probable destiny, with seven as the best case scenario. Todd Graham seemed like the answer, but it would take a few years before he was able to transform the program into a contender.
That last part hasn't changed, neither with the fast start nor last night's loss. Rebuilding and reformulating the Sun Devil program is a major undertaking, one that starts from the ground up with a vision and takes years to become a reality.
The work and progress made by Graham and his Devils has been remarkable and well ahead of schedule. There's no question about that. ASU is likely heading to a bowl game thanks to a new sense of discipline, an exciting offense and an attacking defense. The future is bright with stars like Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and Jaxon Hood.
While the loss to Oregon threw a cold bucket of water to the face of those with more immediate dreams of grandeur, it's just another obstacle for these new Devils to overcome and learn from. It's an opportunity to get better.
As Graham said, the team will go to work to prepare for next Saturday's game against UCLA. They'll battle another quality conference rival, and then four more in the weeks after that. They'll win some, they'll lose some, and they'll likely head to a bowl game. Combined with the significant gains made within the program, on the recruiting trail and in the community, that's something that no bad loss can overshadow.
ASU took it on the chin last night. In today's instant-analysis, 140-character world, the immediate fallout will bury the Sun Devils as pretenders and the generally fairweather fanbase will see a few jump off the bandwagon.
OK, fine. That goes with life in 2012.
But for those are are becoming more fluent in Speaking Victory with each passing week, they will see this for what it was: a program on the rise getting beat by a much better team.
Don't panic. Don't give up on the team. Just take a deep breathe or two, lament the loss, and get ready for UCLA. Better days are ahead, both this year and beyond.