Just over four months ago, the Arizona State Sun Devils (4-4, 3-2 Pac-12) were picked to finish second-to-last in the Pac-12 preseason media poll.
After a dreadful 1-2 start that saw ASU embarrassed by SDSU running back Rashaad Penny and the perennially high-powered Texas Tech Red Raider offense in consecutive contests, the Devils looked every bit the team that was selected to finish above only the Arizona Wildcats.
But then something clicked.
Arizona State came in to week four as massive underdogs to Oregon, but outlasted the Ducks in a shootout. After a a bad loss to Stanford — both due to injuries and a tremendous performance from Bryce Love -- the Devils went out and did two things they hadn’t in a very long time.
Beat a top-5 team, for the first time in over two decades, and win a conference game on the road for the first time since 2015.
The Sun Devils’ blowout loss to the USC Trojans Saturday night shouldn’t dampen any enthusiasm that ASU fans have about the season and the turnaround Graham has been working on orchestrating this year.
Arizona State was never going to compete for the Pac-12 South this season. They were never going to reach the title game or make a miracle run further. What the Devils were supposed to do was finish in the cellar, something that doesn’t look possible at this point.
Sophomore receiver N’Keal Harry has managed to follow up a stellar freshman campaign, redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins has clearly evolved and matured both as a player and a leader and even the ASU defense showed flashes of an extremely high ceiling.
Now with four games to go, the Sun Devils have a great shot at making it to the postseason for the first time since 2015. ASU remains at home to take on Colorado, heads on the road to face the Bruins in Los Angeles and the Beavers in Corvallis before returning to Sun Devil Stadium for the Territorial Cup.
ASU is 7-1 in its last eight matchups against the Buffaloes and should have the edge over a program that clearly played well over their heads last season en route to a blowout loss in the Pac-12 Championship game.
The Bruins’ 2017 season has profiled eerily-similar to that of the Sun Devils’. UCLA was blown out by Stanford, beat Oregon at home and lost a non-conference game they shouldn’t have. In previous seasons, a conference road game would have spelled almost certain doom for ASU, but now, it looks just a bit more manageable.
Oregon State has been at the cellar of the conference for quite some time now. ASU should be favored on the road in this one for the first team in a few years.
In terms of the Territorial Cup, Arizona State hasn’t lost the yearly-rivalry in Tempe since the 2011 season, so home-field advantage bodes well for ASU in the final game of the season.
The Sun Devils likely won’t win them all, but the fact that they only have to take two wins to get a bowl berth speaks volumes about the transformation this team has undergone this season.
The Trojans came in Saturday night and dominated ASU, crushing any hopes of a Pac-12 title game appearance, but that shouldn’t be the defining narrative of the Devils’ 2017 season.
Five weeks ago, many felt that Arizona State was headed down a darker path than seasons past, but now, it is just two wins away from reaching the postseason and building momentum toward a greater turnaround.