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Monday Mailbag: Student attendance, Cambridge brothers, Todd Clapper’s departure and more

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Round 4

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Monday mailbag is back, tell a friend.

This week we are focusing on attendance at football games, the incoming transfers of Devan and Desmond Cambridge, and Todd Clapper’s abrupt departure from the head coaching position of the water polo team after 17 seasons, plus several other questions from our readers and members.

Once again, here’s your qualifier: some questions were edited for brevity and clarity, and all questions were limited to two per user.

Alright, let’s go.

Why does the student section always reduce to half after half-time? - Zoon P.

JOHNSON: There are several reasons why the student section seems to halve itself after the first 30 minutes. I’ll paint with the broadest brush possible and blame the overall game day experience. As a student at Arizona State, I’ll try to give you my perspective on things.

The game day experience is simply not up to par with the schools across the country that keep their students in the seats for the majority of the game. The most impactful issue with it is the glaring lack of tailgating, or better stated, places to tailgate. Arizona State, in part because of its former (and probably very well deserved) reputation as one of the nation’s best party schools, the school appears to me to be a little reluctant to endorse mass tailgating and Greek life at their games in the modern day. Well, it just so happens that mass tailgating and Greek life is the engine of a full student section on Saturdays across most schools in the Power Five.

That leaves you with a student section filled with freshmen and sophomores. I would imagine many are feeling significantly worse around halftime than they did at the start of the game. Plus, the student section is cramped, it’s hot, you have to stand the whole time, and you can’t really bring enough water in to rehydrate. So after a while, the game takes a backseat to some air conditioning and cold water. That is why I refuse to buy the whole Mill Ave. excuse. Most of the student section are under the age to really enjoy Mill, and in my assessment, many of the students who could go to Mill either aren’t at the game or are already there.

In my suggestion, the solution to this would be to make what was formerly the Karsten golf course into a massive lawn for tailgating. It’s far enough away that the school can still advertise a family atmosphere, but it also allows students and alumni to mingle and have a good time before the games. Maybe the proximity and atmosphere encourages people to stay.

With that said, here is the caveat. A winning team cures all. And if you can’t win, try to host big-name opponents. In my time here, the principal non-conference opponents have been Michigan State and BYU. Last season, the BYU game was canceled. You’re hardly rushing to the pay window to buy tickets for either of those teams. Win games or host big names, that should help.

WEIPZ: Could it have something to do with ASU’s reputation as a “party school”? I’m sure. It’s probably the most-likely cause. But if you think about it, for as much as people talk about baseball speeding up its pace of play, college football takes the same, if not longer, time to complete a game. Students probably don’t feel like sticking around when there are definitely other things to do around campus. The vibe I get is that most of the student body likes and enjoys football, but they don’t love it and are uber-passionate fans of the Sun Devils (like most of you).

I think the 942 Crew does a great job of showing up (and staying) for big games (like Oregon or USC for the foreseeable future) on the gridiron, but will be tested if the team struggles this season.

What specifically is the football staff doing to help usher those that are eligible this year to get drafted into the NFL? - DevilForce1

KR: Obviously, ASU’s staff and its connections to the NFL is one of the main draws for recruits, and I do not see a more invaluable resource than this staff as it stands currently. What are they specifically doing? I’d say fielding dozens of phone calls in which they vouch for their former players, as spring ball has started and most of the attention is on the field.

Herm Edwards, Brian Billick, Marvin Lewis, Donnie Henderson, Shawn Slocum (and more) have to make up the staff with the most professional coaching experience in all of the NCAA. All of them still have connections in the league. After Billick and Henderson coached the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory, current Vikings’ assistant coach Mike Pettine joined the staff. This is one small example.

If you want, go to the Wikipedia pages of the teams these ASU coaches worked for in the NFL, and look at the coaching staffs from those seasons. Tell me you don’t recognize any names. The ASU network is a wide one, and likely serves Sun Devil prospects well.

What happened with the water polo coaching staff? Two members of the staff, including the head coach, are out during the season. I’m going to assume it was some sort of misconduct but would like the real scoop. - sundevils

KR: You will be rightly disappointed that I do not have the scoop, but I share your suspicions. When Todd Clapper stepped down after almost 17 years, seemingly out of nowhere, at the end of March, everybody was scrambling for answers, and nobody had them. Clapper isn’t talking. The school and the players are not talking as well.

We will find out after the season when players/other coaches leave and the word eventually spills. Petra Pardi, a former Sun Devil All-American, has seemed like the head coach in-waiting with this dilemma expediting the process. I imagine the recruiting base stays the same. In the meantime, the Devils are the ninth-ranked team in the nation with two more matches, the next vs USC on Saturday, before the NCAA Tournament.

A recent projection put ASU at only 3 wins next year. How many Ws do you see on the schedule? (I think 8, maybe 9, but I’m always an optimist) - Troll S.

JJ: I love your optimism. Last year, I thought the Sun Devils had a very clear path to 10-2. I missed two flaws that kept them at eight wins. First, penalties killed the team against BYU and Utah. Second, Jayden Daniels regressed to the point where he lost trust from the coaches and likely in himself by the Oregon State loss.

So with our attention turned to this year, how do the Sun Devils fix the penalties and have improved quarterback play? For the former, the answer is, do the opposite of whatever you did last year. Obviously, that didn’t work, so throw it out, open a new piece of paper, and work on a new strategy to avoid penalties. For the latter, I have no clue if it will be better or worse, but a point of emphasis has to be on limiting turnovers. Daniels had 10 touchdowns to 10 interceptions last season, any improvement on that ratio gives the team a better shot.

Looking at the schedule, I’d say 5-7. The Pac-12 is just too unpredictable for the Sun Devils to not get a game against, say, Oregon State, Stanford, or UCLA. But they are not winning against Utah, and definitely not against Oklahoma State or USC, which both enter this season with playoff aspirations. And yes, I have the Sun Devils losing to Arizona this season. More pressure rides on that game for Arizona, who will be stronger this season, and I think the Cats will feel the ‘if not now, when?’ pressure in November, and bring more energy to that game. I hope I am wrong.

The biggest thing is to avoid the ignominy of losing to an FCS school like Arizona did (NAU) or Washington did (Montana) last year.

RW: At a glance, I have them at six wins right now (NAU, Eastern Michigan, Stanford, UCLA, Oregon State and Arizona). It is all anyone’s guess at this point with four months until kickoff, but I think ASU will be better than most people think (like wherever you saw the three-win projection).

KR: I agree with Ricky. Six wins and gunning for a bowl game is going to be the goal after the Devils likely drop two-of-four in September at Oklahoma State and vs Utah at home. Herm Edwards treats bowl games with respect, and after the roster and turnover from last year, I think it would be a success.

The Arizona game on the road to potentially become bowl-eligible would have a postseason feel to it already, and I imagine a lot could be riding on that one come November.

What are clear on field strengths of the QBs presently? Where are improvements needed? - Lisa A.

We will circle back to this in our Spring Game recap this weekend, but there really is not much to note from individual drills. The throws are short, the footwork is simple and nobody really separates themselves from the rest of the group. Maybe that is significant, itself?

One thing that needs to improve from last season to this fall is the timing/chemistry between QB/WR. Quick, snappy throws are going to be the heartbeat of this passing game, and the timing needs to be on-point every throw. JD5 would get sloppy in this department.

The Spring Game should be fun and informative. I am looking forward to seeing the fans as well.

Can each program: Lacrosse, Water Polo, Wrestling, Hockey, M/W Swimming/Tennis/Golf, etc. get a list and ranking of their recruiting class as the classes become official throughout the year going forward? -ArizonaSon

KR: I like this idea. Maybe a weekly or biweekly recruiting update across the board? Always open to ideas like this.

How important is the signing of the Cambridge brothers to the basketball program? - AZ State Cowboy

STAFF: Getting those first few signees out of the portal is always a positive, especially in terms of momentum. The Cambridges provide defensive intensity which will help ASU (who finished with a top-30 defense in the country, according to KenPom) on that side of the floor. The eldest, Desmond Jr., also shot 37 percent from three last year.

They also bring experience to the table, as Desmond Jr. (from Nevada) will be playing his fifth year of college basketball in 2022-23 and Devan (Auburn) will be playing his fourth. This will be a nice thing for Coach Hurley to hang his hat on after the departure of Kimani Lawrence and Marreon Jackson, who have played their fair share of college basketball games.

To answer your question, they might not be players who make ASU into a Final Four-caliber team, but they are important from the aspect of supplementing the team in some areas they might have become weaker in this offseason. On another note, they also really enjoy getting up the floor, which could help ASU play with the same fast-paced offense we were accustomed to seeing prior to the 2021-22 season.