First of all, I would like to start this week's column by sending love to the Sun Devil fans that were in attendance at Sun Devil Stadium last Saturday, and on Thursday the week before. Go ahead and give yourselves a pat on the back. Take pride in the fact that you're loyal supporters, and don't judge the congregation of fans who will be showing up throughout the next several weeks for being "fair-weather."
I'm not judging either, I know and understand the importance of winning in relation to having solid attendance numbers. Keep in mind though; the top programs around the country consistently pack their venues, even during disappointing seasons.
I remember when I was a little kid growing up in Eugene, back when it was a big deal to sell-out a game at Autzen Stadium. Now they consistently average around 60,000 fans in a stadium with a listed capacity of around 56,000. How is that possible? Well, it's something called "Standing Room Only", a concept in which Sun Devil Stadium is fairly unfamiliar with, even though it's located in a metropolitan area of roughly three-million people. This may change soon enough. Trust me, fans will be piling into the stadium as the team continues to make strides and gain national attention.
The football analysts that I work with here at the Pac-12 Networks have been very high on the Sun Devils through the first two weeks of the season—on and off camera—and they have expressed their admiration for the way Todd Graham and the Sun Devils have started the season. And it's not like these guys don't have the proper credentials to make such judgments. Rick Neuheisel is a Rose Bowl-winning head coach, and Glenn Parker and Ronnie Lott are both amongst the greatest players ever to play their respected positions in this great conference.
Still, there are plenty of naysayers, and there is no doubt about the fact that a season can come equipped with plenty of challenges leading to the onset of what I like to call FBD - Football Bipolar Disorder. Essentially, that's just a creative way to say ups and downs, and such a disorder has been an epidemic in the world of college football for years. What's the optimum treatment for such a disorder? That would be a head coach who preaches, above all, discipline. And Dr. Todd Graham is the perfect prescriber of such a remedy.
Let's be real, last season is a perfect example of FBD, a season which saw us defeat a UC Davis team, followed by an overtime win in a nearly sold-out Sun Devil Stadium the following week. That's a pretty exciting start to a season if you ask me, and I can assure all, that a final record of 6-7 was not what any fans or members of the media would have predicted.
Still, and this isn't the easiest thing to say considering the level of talent and potential we had last season, this year's team looks better through two weeks. And though largely attributed to Coach Graham's change of culture, a roster which was considered low on talent throughout last off-season deserves an equal amount of credit.
If you would have asked me who my starter would be in February, Taylor Kelly would not have been my choice. Be honest here people, you all felt the same way. I know Taylor, and he has always been the most mild-mannered of the three returning quarterbacks, he would simply go out and quietly work hard on his craft at every opportunity. He was our scout-team quarterback in 2010, and I can say that I and every other member of that defense respected the way he went about his business. Two years later, he is a couple of games into the season and has already racked up nearly 500 yards through the air with a completion percentage of roughly 77%, not to mention a quarterback rating of 189. The guy is plain and simply playing very, very good football through two weeks. We'll see what lies ahead of him in week 3 against Missouri. Mizzou is a solid opponent, and obviously a member of the SEC Conference.
Athletically, they are very similar to the Illinois team which was pounded in Sun Devil Stadium last weekend. The primary difference is the fact that Mizzou runs a more complicated and complex offense, which will be a challenge for the Devils in week 3.
As explosive as the offense has been to start the 2012 campaign, I am even more proud of the defense. Keep in mind; I played with most of these guys, some of them for four years. Keelan Johnson is a friend of mine, and he is playing the best football of his life. Keelan has always been the type of player who was constructed for the combine. This kid is a natural born athlete. He plays a position which requires the most amount of mental awareness, aside from quarterback, in the game of football. And finally the mental and physical aspects of the game are aligning together in perfect harmony for Keelan. I'm willing to bet that he has a massively productive season at safety if he can stay healthy.
Anthony Jones has always been amongst the most athletically gifted players on the roster. Coach Graham said he was proud of Anthony after his performance against Illinois. So was I. Anthony was all over the field and is finally getting the recognition he deserves in Tempe.
Another guy who has been making a ton of plays is Carl Bradford. I believe the reason for this, aside from the fact that he is loaded with ability, is the fact that last year he had spent a season at defensive end before starting his Sun Devil career as a linebacker in 2010. That's perfect, because in the new defensive scheme he plays a hybrid position which infuses both linebacker and end duties/techniques.
From what I've seen this season, the best player on the defense so far has been Will Sutton. I honestly believe Will is the best defensive tackle in the conference. I would have told you that before the year started, and in all actuality I felt that way last year. He is leading the team with 11.5 tackles. He also has two sacks and four tackles-for-loss. Those are dominating numbers through two games, and if he continues this type of play, you're looking at one of the top defensive tackles in the country. Look for Will to continue to lead this defense through the rest of the season.
The matchup against Missouri this weekend will provide fans with a solid look at what type of road team the Sun Devils will be this year. One thing is for sure; Coach Graham will have them prepared. We'll see how the players perform on Saturday.