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ASU Football: Sun Devils firmly entrenched in national spotlight

The Sun Devils have a choice which comes with the territory of being in the national conversation: Ignore the negativity or embrace it.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It's Monday, but not just any other Monday. It's the Monday after Arizona State beat Notre Dame at home on national television in a battle of top 10 teams. It's a place the Sun Devils are familiar with, but haven't been for quite awhile.

More importantly, it's the first time the maroon and gold have been in this spot in the age of instantaneous news, social media, and knee-jerk reactions. Anything that any one person does or says can be broadcast around the world in a matter of seconds. It has happened three times within the past 24 hours.

First, the New York Post published a piece criticizing Todd Graham for praising God on national television. Graham said, "Well, first of all, man, I just wanna thank my lord and savior, Jesus Christ, for allowing me to coach this team. And I'm gonna tell you this: He has had His hands on us."

NYP writer Phil Mushnick went on to pick Graham apart for his comments:

I'm not suggesting folks such as Graham cheapen and trivialize both religion and people of faith for holding a self-anointed "He-has-chosen-me" position, and that God's regard for a coach or all else is a matter of great mutual regard. ... Well, yes, I am suggesting that.

Apparently there is no separation of church and Arizona State. And given the Sun Devils play in what's known as Death Valley, Notre Dame, unlike UCLA, had no shot. From Psalms 23: As they "walk through the valley of the shadow of death ...."
And as long as Coach Graham, through his special relationship, knows that "He has His hands on us," he might want to remind upper-case Him that illegal use of the hands can cost lower-case him half-the-distance to the goal.

Not sure when Sun Devil Stadium became known as "Death Valley" either, but that's another conversation. Todd Graham is a somewhat religious man and has cited God on numerous occasions in press conferences or after practice and nobody blinks an eye. The reason the reader doesn't hear about it is because it's not the type of quote that most journalists will use. Why? Because Graham's religious beliefs aren't newsworthy.

The second case was overnight Sunday, someone or a multitude of people managed to climb "A" Mountain and paint it Arizona red and blue. It seemingly happens every year, but this year it happened a full three weeks before the game. A few players reacted on Twitter.

Corner Lloyd Carrington also tweeted: "One game at a time..We'll be seeing them very soon."

The third was Monday morning, when an article in Rolling Stone was published. It rehashed some of the demons in Graham's closet in the way he left former jobs at Tulsa and Pitt. It cited examples about how he's sold Arizona State fans with his verbiage:

Arizona State, after all, has never really been a dream destination for a football coach, unless that football coach really likes Pumpkin Spice Lattes and raging frat parties. But what if we take Todd Graham at his word? What if he really has changed, even if he still looks like might be calling to convince us to change our long-distance carrier?

Stereotypes aside, the bottom line here is that this program is back in the national spotlight. With that comes a lot of positive, but also a lot of negative attention from the national perspective. A perspective that hasn't been around this program, that hasn't been embedded in Tempe for the past three seasons.

It's clear now that this team will need to be at full mental strength over the next few weeks as potentially negative pieces about the program continue to be written. So what are they supposed to do? They have two choices.

The first is to ignore it. The intention of pieces like the ones mentioned above is to garner a reaction, and it takes more strength between the ears not to react than to say something back at all. If ignoring it isn't in their DNA, then embrace it. Take it in and enjoy it.

One thing is for certain. Attention from people who don't like what you are doing, or hearing from voices rarely mentioned in the college football universe, probably means you're doing something right.