Arizona State football may finally be on the map beyond the Inferno section. After posting an impressive 8-5 record in Todd Graham's first year, experts believe the echo from the buttes may be as loud as the Jake Plummer days.
The transition from Dennis Erickson to Graham couldn't have gone smoother. Now the opportunities are suddenly endless. Instead of being afraid of the tough schedule, the team truly believes it can go undefeated. Will it happen? Likely not, but the positive attitude and confidence shows the unexpected progress.
Looking ahead to 2013, the pieces are all in place. ASU clearly has the personnel to win, so nobody should be content with less. By winning, I mean making the Pac-12 Championship game via winning the South Division, at bare minimum.
Alden Darby, Will Sutton, D.J. Foster and the core of ASU's team consistently states the goal: Rose Bowl. Those are lofty goals, yet quite attainable. Personally, I'm hoping my trip to Cabo, Mexico over winter break will be cut short for that very reason.
In order to get to the promised land, the competition must be evaluated. UCLA provides the biggest road block, while USC can never be counted out. However, on paper, neither are better than ASU.
Jim Mora's signal caller, Brett Hundley, will attempt to leave Arizona sports fans disappointed again. Defensively, the Bruins gave up 27.1 points per game and need to improve but they do own Anthony Barr, perhaps the best linebacker in the entire country. Replacing the record setting production of running back Johnathan Franklin won't happen though, in spite of Noel Mazzone's clever offensive mind. UCLA reminds me of the Los Angeles Clippers, good enough to respect and beat most, yet still flawed enough to overcome.
The other main competitor is the all-mighty Trojans, who are eerily similar to the Los Angeles Lakers. Both names still hold heavy weight because of past dominance and tend to reminisce. USC went 7-6 last season and have less to offer in 2013, losing elite quarterback Matt Barkley and reliable wideout Robert Woods.
ASU could be compared to the Houston Rockets, lots of hype but lacks the proven resume. In addition, both have the big men everyone covet in Dwight Howard and Will Sutton.
Notice anything though? There are no front-runners to be found in the South; no Miami Heat, no Oklahoma City Thunder and no San Antonio Spurs.
We all want ASU to gain respect but ASU needs to command it. Enough of the dark horse conversations, it's time to turn the expectations into reality.
If ASU doesn't stand alone at the top of the Pac-12 South, the season should be considered a bust.