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Before the season, getting to a bowl was the goal. After a 4-1 start, are those ambitions still good enough?
Let's be real here. Even the most optimistic Sun Devil fans didn't think that the team would start of the "Speaking Victory" era in this fashion.The offense under Taylor Kelly has been very good and the defense is an absolute terror for the opposition.
Given how the 2012 season has begun, it seems that the preseason hopes of somehow making a bowl game may now be inadequate. So for this roundtable, we ask the question:
After a 4-1 start, is merely making a bowl game still considered a successful 2012 season?
Cory Williams: I think it's safe to say that preseason expectations can go out the window. ASU has responded very well to their new coach, and four wins in five games is beyond most people's expectations for the Sun Devils in 2012. With that said, there are seven more games on the schedule. Winning only two games out of seven? That cannot be acceptable to fans. That just isn't reasonable.
If the Devils can beat Colorado in Boulder next Thursday, they'd need to win one out of six to make a bowl. The goal has to shift to match the product we see on the field, and the product we see has the ability to defeat everyone left on the schedule. They won't go 11-1, but they cannot go 6-6. That would be a failure, no question about it.
Nick Marek: The majority of Arizona State fans anticipated around a 6-6 season and that has completely changed because the Sun Devils are winning a couple of the bubble games this season. Heck, they nearly started the year off 5-0. Obviously it is always a successful year if the Sun Devils make a bowl, but it depends on which bowl they are accepted to. We do not want to see any more MAACO Bowl appearances because this Sun Devil team is better than that. This season is a chance to prove that head coach Todd Graham has better prepared his team than former coach Dennis Erickson. Last season, Erickson led ASU to a 5-1 start to the season, and finished with a 6-6 record going into the bowl game. Fans would not appreciate that happening again. Graham was brought in to Tempe to make sure that never happens again.
What is the point of going 4-1 if the goal is to only win two more games? Graham said it best himself at a press conference earlier this year in that the media is dead wrong if they think a bowl game is all this team has on its mind. They want a piece of that Pac-12 championship and they have the talent to do it. And why not? USC's loss to Stanford puts ASU in the drivers seat in the Pac-12 South. I'm not saying it will be easy because five of the seven remaining conference games will be against teams that are ranked or were previously ranked. Who would have thought that a road game against Oregon State could be tough this year? The answer is probably not many. Anything less than an 8-4 record should be considered a failure because that would mean the team finished below .500 for the second half of the year.
Ben Haber: ASU's goal of making a bowl game never existed. That's why I love Coach Graham! Since day one, Graham has been committed to winning a Pac-12 Championship. Sure, the idea seamed crazy in August, but has become relatively feasible. USC and Matt Barkley will be a tough challenge, but let's save that topic for another time. The Sun Devils would be bowl eligible despite a disastrous 2-5 finish, which is far from successful. My biggest question mark has been solved, thanks to quarterback Taylor Kelly's emergence as a potential star. A potential 6-6 record means ASU would be under .500 on the season in conference. To me, the minimum win total ASU needs to surpass is seven, an 8-4 mark would be acceptable. However, go big or go home, it's time to start raising expectations and set high goals. The schedule is tough and there will be bumps in the road, yet don't be shocked if Sparky is trotting the sidelines come the Pac-12 Championship game.
Ryan Bafaloukos: At the beginning of the season, expectations were moderate for this ASU team. Most fans and "experts" predicted ASU would win anywhere from 4-7 games. However, with each early season victory, Todd Graham began to make believers out of us. When anyone on this team said the word Rose Bowl, we quietly laughed it off and hoped one day we could take them seriously. However, after five games, the expectations have changed for this football team.
The way that Arizona State has dominated teams (especially at home) makes people believe that the Sun Devils can hold there own with the likes of Oregon and USC. I will bring people back down to earth by saying the early season schedule has been friendly to the Sun Devils. Obviously Utah and California are not as good as we thought they would be. Consider that ASU still has the likes of: Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona and USC on the schedule. Those are five difficult games, especially on the road against USC and Oregon State. I believe that 8-4 is a mark that ASU fans should have their eye on. After this start, 6-6 or 7-5 would seem disappointing. The three games against Pac-12 South opponents are the ones ASU fans should keep their eyes on. Those games will determine where ASU sits in the Pac-12 not only this year, but in future years.
Cody Ulm: I think it's a bit odd that we're changing our goals as soon as they're close to being met. Not to say that I'm already content with what we've done but I feel that it's important to temper expectations. As Nick and others pointed out, our schedule has been quite favorable. I'm proud of this team for taking care of business up until this point but we will find out how talented this team truly is over the final seven games. Looking ahead, I only see two games that should be considered locks for wins (Colorado and WSU). So if we only pull out those two, that puts us at 6-6 by my math.
And honestly, if they finish 6-6 but are able to hang in their games against Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and USC, I won't be disappointed with this season at all. The Pac-12 is a competitive, balanced conference that's currently wide open which has a lot of ASU fans believing they have a chance to steal it. But what people have to remember is that talent-wise, this team was projected as middle of the pack (I said 5-7). We must be careful not to get overboard, especially when you consider that this team is less stacked than the 2011 squad who fell flat on their face in the second half.
I would prefer 7-5 with a win in Tucson or 8-4 by stealing one against one of the ranked teams but I won't call this season a failure if they come up short of that while still giving those teams a run for their money. More than anything, I think this season is about the mindset this team features; Are they showing that they can dance with the big boys and are confident about that fact? I think Todd Graham and company has this team overachieving right now and the rest of the conference should take notice. As long as he can keep that up and continue to have their opponents thinking "oh snap, we have to play the Sun Devils this week" for the rest of the season, that should be considered a success regardless or their final record.
Brad Denny: No way in hell. This fantastic start, as Cory said earlier, has thrown every preseason expectation out of the window, including my 5-7 record prediction. Todd Graham has the boys much further along than anyone expected.
The way this team is playing has shown that the Sun Devils can compete with anyone, including Oregon and USC. Sure, the difficulty significantly ramps up after Colorado, but the team will be that much more prepared and immersed in the culture and systems as well.
Bowl eligibility was once the goal, but now seven wins has to be the lower regions of the team's target. Simply scrapping together another Maaco Bowl appearance would mean that yet another late-season collapse, and that would be far more damaging to the program than not having the 5-7 season I initially envisioned.
As Ben said, go big or go home. For me, that's at worst a trip to the Alamo or Holiday Bowls.