For the first time since the Pac-12 Championship game my freshman year, I went to an Arizona State Sun Devils football game as a student. Last Saturday I tailgated (not very fun for a 20-year-old), got a wristband and wore my best maroon shirt as I dedicated a chunk of my weekend to watching ASU take on the USC Trojans.
So why does it matter that I left at halftime?
Following ASU's 42-14 loss to the Trojans, running back Kalen Ballage posted a long message on the ASU football Facebook page with his thoughts on the fans.
Listen, Ballage does make a good point. He did play that game against USC after dealing with mononucleosis over the last month, and he and his teammates deserve credit for playing hard throughout the entire game well after the outcome had been decided.
ASU is only 2-2. To write off the Sun Devils for the rest of the season when their losses have come at the hands of Top 15 teams is to have written off the Sun Devils after early season losses to Stanford and UCLA in 2013 and 2014. It's a long year, and looking back on this early season stretch in a few months will provide much-needed perspective.
That doesn't mean I owe it to Ballage or anyone else to sit through a second half that saw USC shift into cruise control before the conclusion of the third quarter.
ASU's success under Todd Graham has developed the program into one of high local demand. Students weren't camping outside of Wells Fargo Arena for games against Cal Poly when Dennis Erickson was head coach. They weren't even doing it for games against USC. The heights the program has reached under Graham have transformed it into one of national reach, and the team is hauling in prospects from areas of the country the Sun Devils wouldn't have even ventured into ten years ago.
But with those successes on the field and on the recruiting trail, the expectations for Graham's team headed forward are only going to rise. When a coach preaches he's set his team's sights on a conference title, undefeated season and national championship, the bar that others hold him to is going to rise.
Talk a big game, people expect a big game.
Smart fans know that Graham's talk isn't out of sheer ego - it comes from confidence stemming from tangible success. ASU has grown as a football power, it will continue to grow and those goals will eventually be met. But on a Saturday night, when I've been standing for four hours in a maroon shirt that I sweated through two hours ago, expecting me and other fans to stay till 11:00 p.m. just to watch the end of an-already decided game isn't fair.
Regardless of how many students made their way to the exits at halftime last week, they'll all be making their way back to the entrance next week, with a renewed spirit and voice.