Bear Bryant, quite possibly the greatest football coach of all time, once stated in regards to the University of Florida football program that "there's a sleeping giant down there."
Ever since the term was coined by one of the true icons of the game, it has been official; within college football, there exists "sleeping giants".
What makes a school a potential "giant"? I'll leave one factor hidden ‘til a little later, but here are the others.
One would be the location of the university. Is it in an ideal location in terms of weather? Is such a location populated, and thriving culturally, or aesthetically, if you will?
Believe it or not, recruits are attracted to urban universities, schools in bigger metropolitan areas, or universities located in cities that have historical or cultural significance. Another factor would be a program that was immensely successful in the past. Another important factor would be the prestige of the university, academically or socially.
Most educated college football admirers would agree that, without question, Arizona State is a sleeping giant.
This is a program of solid tradition, a program in which legendary coach Frank Kush led to a record of 176-54-1 through 22 seasons. Dan Devine went 27-3 the three seasons before Kush's arrival, and John Cooper had a record of 25-9-2 through three seasons in the mid 1980s. Overall, Arizona State went 241-85-4 from 1955 to 1987.This is a program nestled in one of America's largest metropolitan areas. And oh yeah, this is a program located in a city which enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year.
Let's be real with one another here: this is a program that has the potential to not only be relevant, but also dominant. However, in order for this to be feasible, one major factor needs to be considered.
That factor is the fan base.
I understand that the program has been struggling in recent years, by the standards of anyone who knows anything about the game, but Arizona State has won at least a share of a conference title more recently than eight of the Pac-12 schools. The title has only gone to Oregon, USC and Stanford since the Sun Devils earned a share of it in 2007. It is understandable that ASU fans have been frustrated with the team since that title run. And during the letdown years of 2008-2011, frustration was constituted. But this year was different.
One of the first columns I wrote for House of Sparky dealt with the importance of patience within the Arizona State fan base during the first few years of a coaching change. It takes time for a culture to take shape, especially with the traits of a former culture still lingering. Too many times this year I saw negativity regarding ASU from fans on social media, and even at Sun Devil Stadium when I attended the Oregon game in October.
The most frustrating aspect was that Sun Devil Stadium wasn't completely full for a game that featured one of the country's top programs against a 5-1 ASU squad. I always have trouble understanding why a booming metropolitan area containing a major American university has trouble selling out football games. Keep in mind that Arizona State saw it's greatest football success during the Kush era, so it's important to recognize that during such an era, ASU football was the biggest show in town. Phoenicians took pride in their Sun Devils.
Now, the Valley of the Sun is home to the Diamondbacks, the Suns, the Coyotes, and of course the Cardinals. Since the Cardinals arrived in Arizona in 1988, the Sun Devils have managed to win just one outright conference championship.
I've played in Sun Devil stadium when it's sold out and when it's packed, and it's one of the loudest stadiums in the conference. It's unbelievable how much of an impact a raucous crowd of over 70,000 people can make. But, unfortunately, that type of environment is not consistent at Arizona State football games.
Before I type this next sentence, it's important that I show admiration and respect to the solid 40,000 Sun Devil fans who's attendance can be expected at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturdays during the fall.
There is apathy in the fan base at Arizona State regarding football.
Say or feel how you want, but it's true. The presence of an exciting home field environment for a football program is invaluable. I can't think of a single dominant program without one, with the possible exception of USC, and Stanford in recent years. In order for the Arizona State football program to awake from its five-year hibernation, the fans have to get involved. Support for the program needs to be as good as ever during these first few years of Todd Graham's tenure as coach. If that factor comes to fruition and presents itself, then Arizona State will have everything it needs to ascend from mediocrity to relevance within a few years. A turnaround is taking shape at Arizona State, but it's a process. Trust me, turnarounds like this happen in college football.
In his first year at South Carolina, Lou Holtz's team went 0-11, only to go 8-4 the following season, which was capped off by defeating Ohio State in the Outback Bowl. In 1999 Oklahoma finished 7-5 and lost their bowl game, the following year they would go 13-0 and bring home a national championship. The California Golden Bears made it to only six bowl games from 1958-2001. Prior to being fired at the conclusion of this season, Coach Jeff Tedford had led Cal to nine bowl games in 11 years. Oregon State had a combined record of 73-242-6 from 1970-1998, and since the revamping by coaches Dennis Erickson and Mike Riley began in the late 1990s, the Beavers have become a solid, winning football program.
The major turnaround that sticks out to me most, though, and relates best with the situation at ASU, is what Steve Spurrier was able to do at Florida. Like ASU, the Gators were not historically a losing program before a turnaround took shape. Though before 1990, Florida hadn't won a single SEC championship. Which reminds me of the quote from the legendary Bear Bryant that I used to begin this column; "there's a sleeping giant down there". Steve Spurrier ended up spending 12 seasons at Florida, a tenure that brought the program 6 SEC championships, and a national title.
The reasoning for pointing out such turnarounds is to make it clear to all Sun Devils fans that the potential that their beloved football program has to return to glory is there, and is in the process of being tapped as I jot away. Sun Devil supporters need to show up now more than ever, they need to be as supportive as ever, and they need to be at Sun Devil Stadium in abundance when the fall of 2013 rolls around.
Look for Arizona State to have a strong showing against Navy in San Francisco on December 29th, and gain momentum, which is ever so important for a strong offseason leading into the 2013 campaign.