Writing this piece on a Tuesday evening, ten minutes after finishing up a completely mediocre piece of chicken. The chicken itself wasn't bad, in fact it was pretty good compared to other pieces of chicken I could've bought at the market. All in all it was a good piece of chicken.
But it wasn't a free taco.
You see, my apartment complex decided to celebrate Mexican Independence Day today and instead of doing anything to actually celebrate Mexican Independence Day, they stocked up on 70 Taco Bell tacos and let the complex have at em. I showed up at the lounge at 6:09 pm, not even ten minutes after the taco bar had opened, and every taco was gone. All of them. Every last piece of suspicious beef mixed with unmelted cheese in a crunchy taco shell, gone. I was crushed.
So how do my personal struggles with mass taco consumption relate to Arizona State football? Here's how.
Headed into the 2014 season, the label that Arizona State put on itself was "Unfinished Business." The Sun Devils returned elite quarterback Taylor Kelly and pass-catching extraordinaire Jaelen Strong. With Kelly, Strong and running back D.J. Foster, Arizona State's offense hummed through three easy games. A 3-0 record headed into a bye week, with a UCLA team that hasn't impressed so far this season coming to Tempe on Sept. 25? Things were looking good for the start to Arizona State's season of finishing business.
That was all, of course, before Kelly suffered an injury to his right foot, an injury that will keep him out of the primetime showdown against the Bruins. The torch of hope and unfinished business from the offseason that Kelly carried so well has been dropped at the feet of Mike Bercovici, and those who watched him in garbage time against the Buffaloes have to be skeptical of Bercovici's ability to immediately contribute. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound quarterback struggled to move the ball against a weak Colorado defense, relying on the deep running back corps. Todd Graham insists the gameplan won't change much with Bercovici compared to what it would have been with Kelly, but Bercovici is a downgrade from Kelly.
So let's take some time to celebrate Kelly, to finally appreciate him. The quarterback who won the job as a third-stringer his sophomore year and has done nothing but win in Tempe has never gotten his share of credit, both locally and nationally. The blame for the loss to Notre Dame last year was put squarely on Kelly's shoulders rather than the defense that allowed 424 yards to Tommy Rees. Kelly's career as a Sun Devil isn't over as the season has many chapters to be written, but his loss deals a crushing blow to Arizona State's chances against UCLA, and USC if he isn't able to return before then.
Bercovici is a solid quarterback, and he'll be better equipped for the starting role when he takes it over full-time next year. But Kelly was the guy this season, and the high hopes of a repeat Pac-12 South title and a second chance in the Pac-12 Championship game are about as healthy as his right foot. Kelly's detractors say he's a system quarterback, and while the run-and-gun offense that Arizona State runs plays well to Kelly's strengths, it's his intelligence and know-how that make the senior invaluable.
Now that I've both confused and saddened you with lamenting about my poor eating habits and Kelly's injured foot, here's where they tie together. While Bercovici is a good player who will succeed as a starter, he's not on par with Kelly and the dropoff between the two will be clear next Thursday. Just as with the piece of chicken I ended up settling for tonight, Bercovici won't leave a bad taste in the collective Sun Devil mouth. But unlike Kelly, Bercovici is a normal college quarterback. He won't lose you any games but you won't see him win many by himself. If Arizona State wins, it'll be because of the superb side dishes in Foster and Strong.
But that piece of the pie that held the fabric of Arizona State's offense together will be on the sideline. It leaves the rest of us to wonder how it'd be different if we didn't have to settle for the chicken.