Coming into the season, everyone knew the four-game stretch that Arizona State played against Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame would help make this one of the most difficult Sun Devil schedules in recent memory.
What folks didn't know is that the back half of the schedule would shape up to be just as difficult. On Saturday, the Sun Devils kick off their final six regular season games against the No. 20 Washington Huskies. Arizona State still has to face a Utah team that upset Stanford, reigning Pac-12 South champs UCLA, and of course, in-state rival Arizona among other difficult contests.
To get a grasp of future opponents, Todd Graham watches the 60-minute versions of conference games on the Pac-12 Network during the week and he's impressed by just about every team he's seen.
"You see the spirit from which they're competing, you watch the team's on the schedule," Graham said of the abbreviated game rewinds. "UCLA really impressed me, the energy they're playing with. Oregon State, Washington State and just how hard they're playing. And I think the most talented team left on our schedule is the one we're playing this week."
Graham's feelings about the Huskies are probably justifiable. Washington has one of the conference's best running backs in Bishop Sankey, a gritty senior leader in quarterback Keith Price, and a lockdown secondary that ranks as one of the country's best.
"It doesn't get any easier," Graham said. "This team here, there's not a team that we've played on our schedule that has more talent than the team rolling in here on Saturday. Even though we've played some really good football teams."
With such a difficult road ahead, Graham says he is happy his team knows what it takes to compete in big games. After all, the Sun Devils have already faced four teams that were ranked at one time or another this season. Graham also believes that playing against some of the nation's top running backs will prepare his defense adjust down the stretch.
"We've played against some really, really good ones (running backs) and I think that's helped us and prepared us and will make us better in conference play," Graham said.
Graham knows his players are ready for the back half of the schedule, but did they prepare adequately for the front half?
"We were ready for that schedule," Graham said. "We should have been 4-1. I do believe that playing good people makes you a better football team."
Even with all of the challenges awaiting the Sun Devils, Graham knows that other coaches look at their schedules and see a difficult foe in Arizona State. The Sun Devils have just as much talent as any team in the Pac-12, and Graham thinks they're primed for a victory on Saturday.
"We're also talented too. I'm not playing, "Oh poor us," that's not to base it off. It's going to be a heck of a game."
News and Notes from Practice
- Arizona State stayed outdoors for the totality of Tuesday's practice instead of retreating inside the Dickey Dome for team periods.
- Graham said Marcus Ball is still a week or two away from returning to the field. Ball suffered a shoulder injury at Camp Tontozona.
- The reason neither Arizona State nor Washington could upset Stanford? According to Graham, it was special teams mistakes.
- Graham called the USC Trojans the most physically gifted team the Sun Devils have played this season.
- Graham also said the Washington secondary was far superior to USC's secondary.