In Todd Graham's first season with Arizona State the Sun Devils transformed into one of the most disciplined teams in the country.
Arizona State finished 10th nationally with just 4.23 penalties per game, which was a far cry from the team's 119th overall ranking in penalties during Dennis Erickson's final season.
Even with the drastic improvement, Graham will not settle for merely duplicating last season's numbers. In year two of his tenure, the Sun Devil coach expects to win the Pac-12 and he believes there's only one way to do that.
"The team that has the most disciplined football team will win this league," Graham said. "We have a lot of work to do. We are not anywhere near where we need to be from a discipline standpoint."
Graham is of the opinion that great football players do not commit penalties and he has made it clear that even his best players will have a short leash when it comes to mistakes.
"If a guy gets a penalty, I can assure you how I'm going to respond," Graham said. "It's going to be extremely negative."
Don't expect Graham to make any exceptions to his rule, because he singled out veterans and three-year starters as players that he will have his eyes on 100 percent of the time.
"And you're not going to stay in, I don't care who it is," Graham said. "It's unacceptable, it will not happen period."
Why does Graham harp on the details so much? When you have a team that is on the fringe in terms of competing for a championship, you have no room for error. The Sun Devils have the talent to excel and thrive, but they also face one of the toughest schedules in the country. As the saying goes, "To be the best you have to beat the best."
"We're trying for perfection and we'll tolerate excellence," Graham said.
The Bye Week
On Thursday, college football season finally arrives. On Saturday, most teams will kickoff their seasons and begin their quest for a championship. As for the Sun Devils, they'll have to wait another week.
Arizona State begins the season with a bye while their first opponent, Sacramento State, will take on San Jose State before traveling down to Tempe. When asked about the chance to start the season later than most teams, Graham expressed his frustration.
"I did not like the fact that we're having the off week first," Graham said. "I would have liked to have had two byes during the season,"
Fortunately, there is one silver lining to starting the season seven days later than usual.
"It's wound up helping us because I think it's giving us a little bit more time that we really needed," Graham said.
Players like Marcus Ball will be able to return earlier than normal, while newcomers like Joe Morris and Eriquel Florence receive the opportunity to get up to speed and possibly see playing time in the first game of the season.
"I think it's helped with some of the little injuries we've had at very very key places that give them a little bit more time to get ready so I'm glad we have another week," Graham said.
Sacramento State presents an intriguing challenge for the Sun Devils because the Hornets are 2-0 in the past two seasons against Pac-12 opponents. Graham has warned his players about the Hornets' potential and he points to a particular matchup from last season that should help Arizona State focus.
"Stanford almost got beat by San Jose (State) last year and if they played at the end of the season, it wouldn't have even been close," Graham said.
So when the Sun Devils finally take the field, Graham expects them to be ready for the grind.
"That's why we're pushing you, that's why we're demanding of you," Graham said. "Are we where we need to be? No, but are we a good football team? Yes."