We pose just one question to our staff on this bye week. There's been a few surprises this season, and of them all, what person (or thing) has surprised you the most about this team this season?
Justin Emerson: Managing Editor (@J15Emerson)
Nick Krueger: Managing Editor (@NickPKrueger)
Jason Galvin: Columnist (@Jason_Galvin)
Shane Theodore: Staff writer (@shane_writes)
Emerson: The biggest surprise was how far this team has fallen in the public's eyes. The Pac-12 is wide open right now, and outside of Colorado, every team thinks it can win the South. If you told me Arizona State would start 4-1, I'd take that in a heartbeat. You can't really expect perfection with a game against UCLA and a road game against USC. That being said, Arizona State has a few big-time games coming up. Stanford comes next week, Utah isn't the cupcake it once appeared to be, and there's a very real possibility the Territorial Cup determines the Pac-12 South winner. This conference race is far from over, and Arizona State has as good a chance as anyone.
Krueger: The roller coaster running game is the biggest thing that has surprised me this season, more specifically in terms of proficiency the team has had in the area so far. The first five game rushing totals read like this: 267, 423, 223, 138, 31. That's a clear downward trend over the past four games. There were significant dips last season too with only 50 yards rushing against Stanford and 65 playing Notre Dame two weeks later. After the game against the Fighting Irish, Arizona State didn't dip below 100 yards rushing the rest of the season so there is a chance it picks back up. D.J. Foster's start to the season was reminiscent of a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, it's astonishing how it's fallen apart the past two games and the Sun Devils have resorted to what seems like a running back by committee strategy. With such an experienced offensive line, the maroon and gold haven't had many pass protection issues, but the run blocking is really lacking recently.
Galvin: I'm surprised that people were surprised Arizona State beat USC. First, Todd Graham seems to have USC's number. Second, Todd Graham can flat out coach, period. Third, Mike Bercovici is a legitimate starting QB in the Pac-12.
USC lost to Boston College, and surely if the Sun Devils would've been playing BC last week, Arizona State would have been a favorite. But that's not the point. The point is this Arizona State team is talented, no question. Are they great? No, not even close. Sometimes they are barely good. But that's a product of youth and inexperience on defense. Talent is not the question.
Back to the Todd Graham point: he's a great coach. Is he the sharpest game manager in the world? Probably not. He's not even the best X's and O'x coach on his own staff (Mike Norvell). But what Todd Graham does better than any coach I've been around is motivate. He reminds me of Pete Carroll in that sense. Carroll has never, ever been a great football coach. He doesn't call plays and I don't think he does anything special from a management standpoint. But his players always come to play for him.
Graham is of the same mold. He loves football, loves Arizona State and loves his players. He's not perfect, and neither is this team. But they can play with every team in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils will lose a few more games, no doubt. But they'll also shock a team or two, too.
Theodore: I've been surprised by the incredible cynicism surrounding this team. I think that anyone using rational thinking knew that this team wasn't as good as last year's Sun Devils, and bumps in the road should've been expected. But after the UCLA loss and even after the Miracle at the Coliseum, Todd Graham and his program have been consistently bashed. Are there serious issues on this team on defense and special teams? Absolutely, but that's something we should've known headed into the year and reacted to the games accordingly.
And to be fair, the team itself hasn't done much to temper expectations, boasting the "Unfinished Business" label.
This team has 7-8 wins all over it, but double digit victories and a return trip to the Pac-12 Championship were unrealistic expectations, and the program has seen what high expectations can do when you're not winning every week.