Graham's first season in Tempe has led to a bowl berth. But what else must be accomplished for this year to be viewed well by ASU fans?
We've discussed many points over the course of the 2012 season, but this is the most important one yet. Can ASU fans and Todd Graham still consider this season a success if they lose to their hated rivals down south in Tucson? The House of Sparky staff debates this topic below.
Brad Denny: On a practical level, no, Todd Graham doesn't need to win this game for the season to be considered a success. Look at what's he's done already in his tenure. He talked the fanbase off the ledge and got them to buy in. He instilled discipline and revamped the culture entirely, with big results on and off the field. He potentially found a quarterback of the future, and the defensive system is already hinting at being a dominant unit. He's secured big recruits now and next year and continues to roll.
He is going to a bowl when few thought ASU would. All things considered, 2012 will be a big success no matter what happens on Friday-at least from an objective point of view. However, Friday is as close to a must win as a game can be for a first-year head coach. So much good will with the fans is at stake. Beating fellow first-year coach Rich Rodriguez and taking back the Cup, on their home field, will make the result of the bowl game irrelevant and send so much momentum into 2013, when ASU should actually be a legitimate South contender.
Nick Marek: You tell them, Brad! I don't need to say much else. The fact that Todd Graham already has gained the student body's interest excites me. He already has numerous recruits committed for the next two years, many of which are from Texas. The program is in the right direction and I am happy that I can watch the Sun Devils in late December. Regardless of Friday night's outcome, it's safe to say Graham had a successful first year as head coach. Remember, he took over this year's team. These are not Graham's recruits. Obviously, if ASU loses on the road, the students wont be too happy with the outcome but that just proves how dedicated those students are to ASU football. It wouldn't be that way if it weren't for Todd Graham. We are in for a great game, ladies and gentleman.
Ryan Bafaloukos: I do not think that this game is a must win for the Sun Devils in order for this season to be considered a success. Todd Graham has changed the culture of this team. He has implemented discipline and accountability to a team that had not heard of those things in years past. The fact that ASU is going to a bowl game this season is a success. Yes we are not a title contender yet, but Graham is building something here. His first full recruiting class looks promising and with all the young players who have been getting playing time, the future looks bright at ASU.
Ben Haber: Todd Graham's two main goals have always been to compete for championships and win the Territorial Cup. Despite the late season nightmares, Graham may accomplish both. Earlier in the season, ASU was a legitimate PAC-12 South contender, and could leave Tucson victorious. The first year of any coaching change seemingly always has bumps and bruises, and Graham's first year is no exception. However, the blue-collar football mentality will attract incoming recruits, setting the Devils up well for the coming years.
Sports is a world of, what have you done for me lately? Therefore, it would be a knee-jerk reaction to proclaim Graham failed if his squad doesn't beat state rival University of Arizona. More importantly, Graham has "established an identity" on both sides of the ball. ASU will play a high octane, fast paced offense, and execute an attacking, versatile defense. In addition, the majority of media members thought ASU would have less than 6 wins. Graham gives ASU great opportunities to prosper regardless of what the scoreboard says Friday night.
Kerry Crowley: How do we best define success? I see an Arizona State program headed in the right direction under Coach Graham, but he has yet to win a marquee game. If Arizona State truly wants to define this season as a success, the Sun Devils have to win on Friday night. The Territorial Cup offers a national spotlight and a prime-time audience on the west coast. The rivalry affair is the perfect opportunity for Graham to display the progress made in his tenure.
Each of the last two seasons, the Sun Devils finished with a 6-6 record overall in the regular season. If Arizona State falls on Friday, they will have played themselves into their third consecutive 6-6 finish. Under Dennis Erickson, mediocrity wasn't good enough. Todd Graham promised improvements right away, so why should he be held to lower standards?
In all honesty, I think Graham has made great strides in Tempe and effectively changed the culture of Arizona State football. Mindless penalties and lazy effort are a thing of the past and we are all thankful. But players, boosters, and fans care about one thing: results. In their eyes, a win over the Wildcats is the best way of characterizing success.
Cory Williams: Wait, what the hell are you guys talking about?
No season can be a success for Arizona State without a win against the Rats. I don't care if we went 11-1 with a loss to Arizona in regular season play, I'd be extremely disappointed. There's nothing worse than an AU fan after an ASU loss in the Territorial Cup.
If you have ever worked with an Arizona alum, you know that this is prime smack talk weather. What happens on Friday night will color your entire winter -- it will either be a glorious holiday season of Tuscum jokes and pitchfork signs, or a whole lot of "Scum Devil" shame.
Todd Graham has to win this game. Not only to prove that ASU is the better school, but to prove to himself that he is not Rich Rod's little brother in the grand scheme of things. The time to set the pecking order is now. ASU must win or else Graham's first season is a failure.
Cody Ulm: I'm going to have to agree with Cory on this one. While I am amazed of everything that Graham has been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time, I still can't consider this season a true success unless the Devils beat the Wildcats. If the fan base could choose one guaranteed win in any game once a year, they'd choose this one eleven times out of ten. And I consider this season's matchup to be even more important than years past with this being the beginning of a new era of collegiate football in Arizona.
Much like Arizona State, that other program down in Tucson has a had quite a season and one they should be proud of. But whichever team is victorious in this one automatically has the superior season as a win will set the tone for the rest of the Rich-Rod/Graham in-state rivalry. No, a loss for Graham doesn't make this season a failure by any means. I just believe that a win against Arizona in this very evenly-matched battle would show the rest of the state just how committed he is to reestablishing ASU's image.
Nick Marek: I just want to say you are crazy, Cory. An 11-1 season would possibly give the Sun Devils a chance at a Rose Bowl and you would be disappointed about a loss to UA. I would be so pumped just to play in the Pac-12 championship not to mention a chance to play in a bowl game in January. I think that comment was a little too far in my opinion. I would be disappointed for like ten seconds then I would rub the whole "Shut up Wildcats. You don't have a Rose Bowl chance."
What do you say, Sun Devil Nation? Vote in the poll.
Does Arizona State HAVE to beat Arizona for 2012 to be a success in Todd Graham's first season?
It's the only way any ASU season is a success (51 votes)
Todd Graham has the program moving in the right direction regardless of winning or losing (35 votes)
I hate Arizona (66 votes)
152 total votes