This is it: the No. 18 ASU Sun Devils face their biggest road challenge of the season on Saturday against the No. 9 Oregon Ducks. This game, featuring two of the top contenders in the Pac-12, has the potential to define ASU's season moving forward and should provide a good measure of where exactly the ceiling lies for these Sun Devils.
Since losing to Illinois on the road in Week Three, the Sun Devils have responded with huge wins at home against then-No. 23 USC and on the road at Utah. The victory against the Utes last weekend in particular generated some positive momentum for this program, indicating that this team can win on the road while atoning for the earlier road loss to the Illini.
Now they face the Ducks, who score the second-most points of any team in the country (50.2 points per game) and who score even more than that on their home field (56.0 points per game). Oregon will likely be without running back LaMichael James, an integral part of their offense and a player who has rushed for over 200 yards in each of his last three games.
That's good news for the Sun Devils. Oregon feeds off of James' explosiveness, and ASU may have one less thing to worry about with James on the sideline. Claiming a victory in Eugene, though, is going to require plenty of focus and discipline.
If the Sun Devils can score points early and be as tenacious defensively on third downs as they've been so far this year (allowing just 25% of opponents' possessions to be converted on third down this year, third-best in the nation) the Sun Devils can make this a very interesting game.
A win here would open up lots of possibilities for the Sun Devils. All of the other games left on the docket are certainly winnable and ASU could make lots of noise heading into the latter stage of their 2011 campaign.
Before we can start thinking about that, though, Brock Osweiler and the other Sun Devils need to come out focused and claim victory on Saturday. ASU has struggled notoriously with discipline in recent years, mainly with the number of penalties that they manage to commit, but the magnitude of this game should grab their attention and make them realize that they do not have much room for error. If the Sun Devils play up to their potential, a season-defining road win and a 6-1 overall record are certainly within reach.