It's starting to get real.
Yes, only two games against lower-echelon Pac-12 North teams and one visit down South separates Arizona State and a repeat Pac-12 South title and return trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game. And the way things are going this season, it looks like the Sun Devils are primed to seriously challenge Oregon in what will essentially amount to a play-in game to the College Football Playoff. Arizona State has dominated Stanford and Notre Dame, the only two teams they lost to in the regular season last year, and the defense has improved dramatically to vault the Sun Devils into elite national status.
Really, this development of this season has one been one crazy pipe dream that somehow managed to come true. Arizona State has made it. Only two games against poor teams and one against an overrated Arizona squad (no Power Five nonconference games, squeaker win against Cal) and the Sun Devils will have their shot at making a real national statement.
But many a great team has been caught looking too far ahead, and the Pac-12 is no stranger to late upsets. Oregon was (twice) in position last year to win the Pac-12 North, but stinkers against Stanford and Arizona doomed the Ducks. USC spent many of the Pete Carroll and conference championship-less years in the same position, but lost chances to go to the national championship more than once with upset losses.
While it's no Death Valley in Baton Rouge or Camp Randall in Wisconsin, Reser Stadium in Corvallis does own an impressive history of high-profile upsets over conference opponents. In 2006, an undefeated and No. 1 ranked USC team traveled up to Reser to take on the Beavers, and returned home with its record's first blemish. The Beavers repeated the act in 2008, as the Oregon State rushing attack blitzed the Trojans' title hopes.
Oregon State consistently owns one of the better home records in the conference, and its history of being just good enough to consistently beat great teams but never good enough to be one itself is one of the most fascinating things about college football. In fact, Arizona State hasn't won in Reser since 2005, and Todd Graham lost in his first game up there in 2012. The Beavers are enduring a terrible season, but Mike Riley is one of the better coaches in the conference and will have his team ready to possibly play spoiler.
Cynical Sun Devil's Worst Case Scenario
Coach Todd Graham, stemming from a childhood vacation in Cancun where he found the sand dollar that he now keeps in his desk in Sun Devil Stadium, has a habit of taking things away from every place he goes. Last year's trip to the Rose Bowl to take on UCLA led Graham to find out about Pinkberry, and he learned from this season's visit to Seattle that flannel can indeed be worn on any occasion, formal or informal. Graham's a man of experiences, and he strives to take away new lessons and knowledge from everywhere he goes.
So when his son and Arizona State assistant coach Bo Graham tells his dad that Corvallis has one of the better wildlife refuge parks in the nation, he decides to take the entire team. Because the game doesn't start until 7:45 pm PT (cough cough, that is way too late for a football game cough cough), Graham has time to take his team during the early afternoon on Saturday, when the animals are most active.
The team takes a nice, scenic walk around the reservation, and Graham's goal of bringing the team closer with nature and away from the pressure of national recognition comes to fruition. The team separates into 60 pairs of partners, and set off to enjoy the day before returning to the Oregon State campus to take on the Beavers. Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici spend their time hanging out with the wild elk that inhabit the reservation. D.J. Foster and protégé Demario Richard get in touch with nature by singing along with the songbirds, and Damarious Randall and Jordan Simone discover the reservation's abundance of fruit trees.
The team spends two hours at the park, and Graham successfully cleanses his team of any nerves that come with being the the pressures of being an elite program. A flock of Canadian geese fly over right as Graham gathers the team up to head back to the bus, and the whole program watches as hundreds of geese migrate for the winter, enjoying the serene beauty of nature and its inhabitants................and then Kody Kohl gets dropped on by one of the geese, and all hell breaks loose. A crane swoops down from the skies, thinking Simone is a small animal, and tries to swoop up the Sun Devils' starting safety. Foster stumbles upon a cougar and is forced to use all of his speed to get away, completely exerting himself. Jaelen Strong falls in a marsh.
The team returns to Reser Stadium shaken, with both physical and mental bruises from the experience. Foster's quickness is zapped, Simone flinches every time an opponent moves towards him, thinking it's the crane, and Kohl can't play well because he can't get the smell out of his helmet. Arizona State loses 24-14 and Graham vows to never become one with nature again.