Question: How has your perception of this week's Notre Dame vs. Arizona State game changed since the beginning of the season?
Cory Williams: I think it's safe to say that prior to the season, ASU fans had marked this four-game stretch against Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame as "murderer's row" -- many folks said ASU had one of the toughest gauntlets in the country through the first six weeks of the season. That prognostication has not come true, as both USC and Notre Dame have fallen short of expectations in 2013 thus far. Our very own Ben Haber broke down the schedule before the year, noting that we were only favored in one of our first five games. As of now, ASU is a 5.5 point favorite over the Fighting Irish. That says a lot about how far ASU has come, while also noting Notre Dame's downward trajectory.
This game has taken on a very different meaning for the Sun Devils. If they defeat Notre Dame and move to 4-1 on the season, a clear path towards the Pac-12 South crown can be laid out. This game represents an epic opportunity to impress recruits in Texas while defeating a historical power. And that, my friends, is all you can ask for as a Sun Devil fan.
Nick Marek: Cory brings up a great point about recruiting (also revealing a new uniform), but this game is no longer AS important as it was two months ago. Don't get me wrong, it would be a big leap in the right direction to knock off football powerhouses like Wisconsin, USC and then Notre Dame but those programs are not the same as they were two years ago.
With the game being televised on primetime television, some fans will more than likely still expect to see the Fighting Irish win. But if Arizona State improves to 4-1 on the season like Cory mentioned, this program will exceed most of our preseason predictions. I thought starting the year 3-2 would be satisfying but now seeing how poorly ND has played, the Sun Devils better start 4-1 because the bigger tests come in two weeks against Washington and then late in the season against a UCLA team that could be hovering around the top ten.
It's still an exciting game, but the Sun Devils need to win this weekend and prove that they belong in the top-25 for more than one week and that they are the real deal and can make a run at the Pac-12 title.
Kerry Crowley: In all honesty, my perception of the Notre Dame game hasn't changed since I really gave some thought to the season this summer. With the talent level the Sun Devils have, I expected them to be 3-1 heading into Dallas with an opportunity to knock off a traditional powerhouse on a national stage. That being said, I didn't think Notre Dame would be out of the top 25 by the time Arizona State played the Fighting Irish.
I said before the season that to be considered a legitimate Pac-12 South contender, the Sun Devils had to run the four-game gauntlet they're finishing up this week with a 3-1 record. It's not a conference game, but Arizona State needs to beat Notre Dame to have a real chance at challenging UCLA. A 4-1 record through the first five games of the season would make a statement that this program is headed in the right direction under Todd Graham.
Cory and Nick touched on the importance of recruiting as well. In Graham's Monday press conference, he said that Texas is the third priority behind Arizona and California in recruiting and winning at AT&T Stadium against a team that made it to the National Championship last season says a lot about the caliber of the Sun Devils. I have always thought of this game as a must-win, and I now believe that more than ever before.
Cody Ulm: Looking at this game back in June/July, I figured this would be Arizona State's best chance to make a national statement. I always assumed the Sun Devils didn't stand a chance against Stanford and while I predicted them to lose to Notre Dame, I thought they'd at least give them a solid run for their money. Now, with Notre Dame on steep decline, Saturday's objective has transformed from making some national noise to simply taking care of business against a lesser opponent.
That said, Arizona State still has the opportunity to become the first team in the history of college football to beat USC and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks. So while this ultimately isn't the most important of games considering ASU's aspirations (Pac-12 Championship, Rose Bowl), that's still a stat worth fighting for.
For me, one major change that has to be factored in is Notre Dame's mentality. Not to get too much into intangibles but Arizona State is now set to face a team that is the definition of desperate. Of course, it remains to be seen if that makes any difference. The Sun Devils will be feeling good in their new digs and looking to make a statement in a huge recruiting market on national television. That should neutralize any added motivation by the Irish, in my opinion.
Join the conversation in the comments section below and let us know how your perspective has changed. Is this a must-win game for ASU?