Welp, I've learned my lesson. Throughout the season I've thrown column after column of incessant pessimism at you and the one week I finally relent is the week that my pessimism is finally justified. Last week I wrote here that Arizona State had "made it" as a program. That the last two weeks against poor Pac-12 North teams and one final showdown with Arizona would be the icing on the Sun Devils' cakewalk to the Pac-12 Championship.
And then the dream died. Well, sort of. The dream kind of died. There we go, that's better. Yep, Arizona State fans collectively rubbed their eyes awake on Sunday morning and realized that yes, the dream season has indeed endured a shocking pitfall. Sitting at 8-1 with their destiny still very much in their control, Arizona State laid an egg in Corvallis, and now are at the mercy of USC and Stanford to knock off UCLA.
What fascinated me most about the loss to Oregon State was the reaction from the community. Twitter was ablaze with anger and the subsequent over-consumption of alcoholic beverages while message boards and forums I read were more apologetic. "Well, the game was on the road, and Oregon State did almost beat Oregon in the past two years." That's the generalization of the latter camp, while Twitter's reaction was more along the lines of "TAYLOR KELLY IS THE WORST QUARTERBACK IN THE WORLD UGH I'M GONNA GO DRINK MYSELF TO DEATH."
Neither of those reactions are justified, but how should we feel about the loss? I'll tell what we shouldn't be, we shouldn't apologize for anyone. No, Todd Graham should've been more prepared, Taylor Kelly shouldn't have thrown that pick-six and damn sure shouldn't have taken a fourth down sack. Fans have every right to be angry with a poor performance, and excusing bad play just because they weren't completely consistent lets the team off too easy. Arizona State choked, and chokers are not deserving of our understanding and acceptance.
At the same time, how sweet is it that Arizona State football has reached the level that losing to Oregon State is a devastating loss? In 2012, 2010, or even last season, losing to a conference opponent not named Colorado, Cal or Washington State wasn't too much of a blemish on your record, and I think the country has forgotten just how good Sean Mannion is. The loss last Saturday is crushing, and it should be, but this is the start of consistently-high expectations for Todd Graham and the Sun Devils and as someone who remembers exactly how bad this program was, I couldn't be happier with a two-loss Devils team in late November.
Oh, I almost forgot, there's a game this weekend! One member of the Pac-12's terrible trio visits Tempe this weekend, as the Cougars from Washington State will try their hand at Arizona State. No Connor Halliday for Washington State means that redshirt freshman Luke Falk has taken over for the senior quarterback who broke his leg against USC. One would think that Washington State's passing attack would take a step back under Falk, but he's come in and thrown for 817 yards in his first two games under center, and beat Oregon State 39-32. Yeah, the Pac-12 is messed up. All logic points to a dominating Sun Devil win where frustration pent-up since last Saturday is finally released in the form of a blowout, but hey, this is all coming from the Cynical Sun Devil who wasn't nearly cynical enough.
Cynical Sun Devil's Worst Case Scenario
The Pac-12 is a conference of consistent parody. Arizona beat Oregon, who beat UCLA, while UCLA beat Arizona, Utah beat UCLA, Arizona State beat Utah, and Arizona State lost to UCLA. Yeah, it's a weird conference. But with the College Football Playoff now a distant possibility for Arizona State, Todd Graham knows he has to really impress voters to possibly ensure the Sun Devils a spot in the second-best bowl for a Pac-12 team.
So Graham decides to give a call to Arizonian and Sun Devil fan John McCain, who was a guest of honor at Arizona State's landmark victory over Notre Dame. Graham talks to McCain over the phone, and asks to call in a favor. McCain obliges, and gives his old friend Condoleezza Rice a call. Rice, a member of the College Football Playoff, is initially resistant to McCain's wish that she and the committee give the Sun Devils another chance. But after all those years in government, McCain has built up quite a bit of blackmail on just about everyone, and is able to finally convince Rice to gather a group of committee members and take a trip out to Tempe to watch the Sun Devils.
Graham is estatic as he thinks that West Coast football is woefully under appreciated and that, if his team puts on a good show, it could help leap them above a couple of Big-12, SEC, and Big-10 teams. To ensure Rice and the committee have a good time on their stay, Graham tours them around campus and treats Rice to a box combo from Raising Canes. "You see here Condoleezza, this is what we in Arizona like to call a real problem solver." Rice isn't sure whether Graham's quip is a slight insult at Congress, but she's too busy enjoying the Texas Toast to think about it.
Graham exerts so much of his energy making sure the committee has a great time in Tempe that he doesn't watch enough film on Falk. "They're gonna throw it a lot, we know that," Graham says. Graham, true to himself, blitzes on 68 percent of his defensive snaps, and Washington State's Falk completes 68 percent of his passes en route to a 35-21 upset. After the game, Graham goes over to Rice's suite to apologize for his team's performance just to realize that the former Secretary of State has already left the stadium. On her seat, a note rests.
"At Canes. Arizona State is going back to the Holiday Bowl."