TEMPE, Ariz. — Back in the brash talking days of August, Todd Graham was basking in the national spotlight. The Arizona state football team held a No. 15 preseason ranking, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit made the Sun Devils a fashionable pick for the four-team College Football Playoff and Graham did nothing to downplay those expectations in his fourth season at the helm.
“I like that those predictions are there. I like that we’re in that talk,” Graham said before the Sun Devils’ season opener against Texas A&M in Houston. “When you play in games that everybody in the country is talking about, that’s how you get to be elite status. We’re not there. We haven’t won a championship… but we deserve to be in that discussion.”
As it turned, Graham vastly over-estimated his latest group of players. The Sun Devils do not belong in the national championship discussion. They do not belong in the Pac-12 title discussion and they may not even belong in the bowl discussion.
Thursday’s epic but eviscerating 61-55, triple overtime loss to Oregon at Sun Devil Stadium gave the Ducks their ninth consecutive victory over ASU and dropped the Sun Devils (4-4) to .500 for the first time since Graham’s inaugural season in Tempe. For the first time since Graham took over, it is fair to say that ASU is no longer moving forward, and has even taken a step back.
“We have four more games to go out and dominate, and prove to the country that we are the type of team that we started out the season as,” said defiant quarterback Mike Bercovici. “Wins and losses don’t define the type of team that we have.”
In fact, wins and losses clearly define what type of team ASU has. There are myriad flaws on both sides of the ball; recruiting deficiencies that no amount of tinkering could hide. When the Devils finally got the offense untracked to the tune of 742 yards against the Ducks — the third highest total in program history — there were penalties, defensive lapses and turnovers to derail them.
Through eight games, ASU hasn’t put together a complete effort and eight games offer more than enough evidence to judge the identity of a team.
With games at greatly improved Washington State and Cal, along with a home game against rival Arizona upcoming, the Sun Devils are in deep danger of a once-unimaginable failure: missing a bowl game.
These are not Dennis Erickson’s Sun Devils. There will be no quit in Graham’s team as it finishes out the final third of its schedule, but nothing the Sun Devils do now can erase the taste of this unexpectedly sour season.
When asked to explain the gap between his preseason expectations and his current reality, Graham was wistful as he stood at the postgame podium on Thursday night.
“I don’t,” he said, before a long and painful pause. “Disappointed.”