Let's try to sort this out.
Take a deep breath and...ready....go!
USC was supposed to cruise their way to a South title and contend for a national championship, but then they lost to a Luck-less Stanford team. Utah was a trendy darkhorse Pac-12 contender, yet they lost to Utah State and are now in the South cellar. Oregon State was supposed to be terrible and struggle for maybe three wins, yet they are 2-0 after knocking off two ranked teams. One of those teams was UCLA, which exploded out of the gates to use their second-ranked offense to reach No. 19 in the polls. Mike Leach was expected to make things great and pirate-y at Washington State, but instead loses at home to Colorado, who prior to that game was rightly considered one of the worst teams in the history of North American organized sports. The lowly Arizona Wildcats struggled to barely beat Toledo at home, before dropping 59 on Oklahoma State and spending two weeks ranked.
So yeah, of course that's how this season has started.
Then there's Arizona State. The Pac-12 media saw fit to rank the Sun Devils fifth in the Pac-21 South, ahead of only Colorado during the preseason poll. Four weeks into the season? Yep, ASU and Colorado are tied for the division lead.
While the latter is certain (as certain as this Rod Serling-authored season can be) to fall down the standings soon, the Sun Devils have shown enough over the season's first third to indicate they can remain at or near the top of the South. In this crazy season, anything seems possible.
But first, they must win "the most important game of the year" this Saturday against Cal.
Why the quotes? Because Saturday's match-up in Berkeley will surely be the first of many such games given that title, and rightly so. That's just the nature of a football season for a contending team. Such is the case this week for the Sun Devils.
At the risk of throwing more unfounded hyperbole on the Internet, here's why Saturday will mark the latest Most Important Game of the Year.
- Conquer the Road Woes: Over their last 23 games away from Sun Devil Stadium, ASU is 5-18. Yep, that amounts to a sparkling .217 winning percentage. As lousy as that .217 mark is, it's better than the .000 that ASU has at Cal since their last win in 1997. For ASU to be anything more than a fringe bowl team annually, that road record has to improve dramatically. That starts Saturday.
- Conference Opponent: ASU is undefeated where it counts, standing at 1-0 in Pac-12 play. Right now, early as it is, the truth is that Sun Devils control their own destiny. The only way to guarantee a South title is to keep on winning, and that means a W in Berkeley.
- A Quality Opponent: Cal comes into this game at 1-3, but they're coming off two straight road games against No. 12 Ohio State and No. 13 USC. While their defense has slipped, their offense has several very talented players. Make no mistake, this is a solid football team and this will be no easy win for the Devils to get.
- The Rest of the Schedule: After a road game against those "resurgent" Buffaloes, the second half of the schedule does ASU no favors. Games against Oregon and USC lay ahead, and road games against Oregon State and Arizona and a home date against UCLA no longer seem as easy as they once did. ASU needs to pick up all the wins they can.
- Exorcise the Erickson Demon: Against Missouri, the Sun Devils performed like a Dennis Erickson coached team for three quarters. They made penalties, gave the ball away and generally were their own worst enemy in falling behind 24-7. Then, the "Speaking Victory" light turned on, and they rallied to nearly squeak out the win. If the team can take their complete 60-minute show they've performed so well at home out on the road, the Sun Devils can be a force.