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The RPO Column: Reality (Week 12)

Life comes at you fast.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils suffered their fifth straight loss Saturday, losing on the road against the No. 6 Washington Huskies in a 44-18 drubbing.

The Sun Devils weren’t expected to pull off the upset despite entering having defeated the Huskies in their 10 previous meetings, but a competitive start had folks at least considering it through the first 15 minutes. Ultimately, superior talent prevailed.

This is ASU’s reality, which is what we’re dedicating this post to.

The Sun Devils aren’t going to finish the regular season with a Pac-12 South title, a top-25 ranking or even a winning record. Even the bare-minimum expectation of reaching a bowl game is in jeopardy.

There’s been forces at work against the program on the field which can’t be overlooked: the absurd amount of injuries—quarterbacks, running back, receiver, offensive line, linebacker, safety and corner—crashed ASU’s hot start. A young coaching staff composed of several new faces struggled to find answers.

The excuses aren’t enough. What’s been said with regularity by fans, Todd Graham and his team, and those at the very top of the food chain is everyone deals with them, ASU should find a way to overcome them.

But the clock’s all but run out. The errors couldn’t be corrected in time. The Sun Devils’ season ended exactly how many predicted it would, finishing as a conference bottom-feeder. The circumstances leading here may not read as they expected to, but the end product—which is hinging mightily on the result of this weekend—is what was expected along.

It’s the reality of things, and while it may not be what fans wanted, it’s what’s been earned.

Reminder: Run (with what you’re saying) — Pass (on what you’re saying) — Option (out of it)


Basically. There was a first quarter, then... Not so much a football game after that.

The defense actually played pretty well against Washington. The offense sucked. Defense couldn't play the whole game. (John Merten via Facebook)


The Sun Devils’ defense played with fight and energy early on. Washington quarterback Jake Browning didn’t get off to a strong start, struggling with accuracy early on. ASU took advantage forcing a turnover and stifling a red zone chance.

Like you said, unfortunately for the Sun Devils, the defensive production wasn’t sustainable, especially because the offense was ineffective in the red zone.


Agreed, Huskies coach Chris Petersen is proven the superior recruiter, and boasts several players who will play in the NFL or at least earn an opportunity to. I do, however, think Graham’s team is relatively young. So while yes, the team should be better, at least there’s youth to build with moving forward.

The biggest concern is in the secondary: Graham brought in a couple of JUCO players and transfers who were expected to immediately contribute. The problem was, those players weren’t able to successfully fill their roles consistently this year, and aside from Kareem Orr and Armand Perry, there’s been rotating doors at the other secondary positions. Failures in recruiting talent at the backend stunted ASU’s defense away from success.

We suck is my worry. (Daniel Serna via Facebook)


This year? I guess I’ll concede. Earlier in the year I blasted someone for saying that ASU did following an earlier loss, but in comparison to the rest of the conference—which is what’s most important and reflective of how competent of a program being run—the team isn’t good. Not this year.


There’s plenty to worry about: the resurgence of USC, and its star quarterback; Utah’s consistency; Washington settling into elite status; Colorado coming out of nowhere. While this is all true, though, I don’t figure ASU will go through the injury rash it has this season, and key players will have a year of experience under their belt.

The Sun Devils will be better next year.

Man I just hope N'Keal Harry doesn't transfer. (Chase Hansen via Facebook)


Man. If there was one bright spot to the blowout against Washington, it’s Harry. His second 100-yard receiving performance came against the best secondary in the Pac-12, after breaking the century mark against a good unit the week before.

Keep him enrolled in Arizona State at all costs.


Oh. Maybe? Does Graham want to give up the keys to his defense to someone he doesn’t know? (If there’s any connection between the two, feel free to enlighten me.)

That would be cool, but that’s all dependent on whether or not ASU and Ray Anderson want to fork over serious dough to land Strong with Graham already under contract through 2021. It’s potentially a good contingency plan, if many of you folks get what you want, and Graham’s removed, then supplanted by him.

Not sure where to point the blame on this season. The bottom line is, we want to be relevant. Colorado turned it around in one year, hopefully we can too. (Kelly Van Voorhees via Facebook)


I’m confident ASU will. Not sure the Sun Devils will be edging towards a College Football Playoff berth like the Buffaloes are/have this year, but better, yes.

Relevant as far as being a threat to win the South? Yes. Nationally relevant, I doubt it, but that’s what makes the Pac-12 so fun. And weird. You never know.


So, let’s talk about this, because I’m of the party which says Graham should absolutely return. However, I must also remove this lens through which I’ve always viewed ASU football (Arizona football for that matter, if I’m being honest) as being typically middling-to-decent, overachieving every now and then.

That said, if you believe you deserve better than CTG, then believe it. You get better by expecting to be better. History, narratives, etc. shouldn’t be a focal influence.

Still, I don’t think it’s rational to assume big name coaches will want to come to ASU. Betting Ray Anderson can reel them in, though—that’s fair.

Les Miles is out there—the name that keeps getting brought up in our comments, and would be the one to land. Art Briles is out there too, but considering the heinous acts which occurred under his watch, and his handling of the uncovering of those acts, is enough for me to question one’s character if they’re to seriously consider him.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves here. To casually say “Well, the Sun Devils should’ve found a way to overcome the injuries” is irrational. Starters are starters for a reason, and not having many for a majority of the year at one time is going to hamper any team’s success.

The secondary play has been horrible. Back-to-back record-breaking seasons isn’t something a defensive-minded coach should have on his résumé.

How much blame can be placed on personnel? Much of it, but Graham has said himself great coaches do a great job of 1.) teaching and 2.) showing schematic adaptability to the skill set of available players.

That said, there’s reason to believe he’ll rebound in 2017. There’s youth to play with across the board, notably Harry, Orr, the offensive line, and quarterback. If the secondary and pass rush don’t improve though, things get interesting, in the wrong way.

I’d say relieving Graham of his job before getting the chance to see what he can do with this talent would be premature. Last season was a product of poor football, both from the perspective of coaching (mismanagement) and execution (players underperforming). This year, it’s been a poor football product due to poor coaching (adapting, teaching) and poor execution again, but to not rule it an anomaly would be false.


At least ASU fans can take solace in the fact their team has more wins than Notre Dame, Michigan State, and UCLA, and didn’t lose to Kansas.

Just don’t lose to Arizona, go play in a bowl, and forget it ever happened?