Dennis Erickson worries more about where his team is ranked in January, not September — and the Arizona State football coach has two national championships to validate that philosophy.
As a result, Erickson is not overly excited that ASU moved into the Top 25 in both major rankings a day after its 44-32 victory against Oregon State. The Sun Devils (4-0) are No. 23 in the Associated Press poll; No. 25 (tied with Purdue) in the USA Today (coaches) rankings.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” Erickson said. “Any time you see your name in there, that’s good, but it’s not that big of a deal.”
The polls are long-familiar territory for Erickson’s teams; he has taken four of them — Washington State, Miami (Fla.), Oregon State and ASU — into the Top 25. The only coach to have more is Lou Holtz, with five (North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina).
It is ASU’s first AP ranking since Sept. 17. 2006, when it was 3-0 and No. 22 after a 21-3 win at Colorado. The Sun Devils were drilled at California the following week and fell out of the poll.
Also, Erickson is the first ASU coach to have his team in the AP rankings in his first season in Tempe, according to research by the school’s athletic media relations office.
Darryl Rogers, John Cooper, Bruce Snyder and Dirk Koetter had teams ranked in their second year; Larry Marmie and — believe it or not — Frank Kush needed a third season for their squads to be represented in the poll.
“We were never ranked under (Dan) Devine, from what I can tell,” media relations director Doug Tammaro wrote in an e-mail to reporters. “But (that was) when the AP poll hardly had any western teams.”
The Sun Devils have an opportunity to climb the rankings, with winnable games against Stanford and Washington State the next two weekends. An improved Washington club could provide a test on Oct. 13, and then — after an open weekend — sixth-ranked California visits Sun Devil Stadium.
“The struggles that we had last year served as a lesson for us,” receiver Michael Jones said. “We’re a different team. This season, we stepped it up and had a plan. We had to get the respect of everyone in the Pac-10.”
Storming back from a 19-point first-half deficit against Oregon State — one of the league’s better teams — has built ASU’s confidence. A win in the state of California, where the Sun Devils have not won a Pac-10 game since 1999, would raise spirits even more.
This week’s contest at Stanford is ASU’s first on the road under Erickson, who said that he has no special preparations planned for playing away from Sun Devil Stadium.
“You have to treat it as a business trip, not a vacation,” Erickson said. “We have to go in with purpose. We are playing a football game, nothing else. It’s important we focus on that. …
“Besides, these guys have been at Camp Tontozona. Going on the road should be easy compared to camp.”
• Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said that his offensive and defensive lines were at opposite ends of the performance spectrum during the Sun Devils’ 44-32 win against Oregon State on Saturday.
He had praise for the defensive front, but said that a veteran offensive line — which gave up four sacks and was bailed out many times by quarterback Rudy Carpenter’s scrambling ability — continues to underperform.
“Our offensive front did not play like we are capable of,” Erickson said. “We did not protect the passer well. (Oregon State) did some things to us to get some pressure on, but we have to play better than that up front to win.”
On defense, Erickson said that the pass rush is a concern, but indicated that ASU did not blitz much more on Saturday than during the first three games of the season. He said that “we will have to add some things defensively” to pressure the quarterback with regularity.
• Safety Josh Barrett, who lost his starting job to Jeremy Payton due in part to a pectoral muscle injury, had his best game of the season, Erickson said. The senior played some snaps at safety but made his most notable plays on special teams.
“Josh is still a great leader on this team, even though he isn’t playing as much he did before,” Erickson said.
• The 48-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Torain — where the running back raced from the backfield up the middle, isolated against an overmatched linebacker — was put in the playbook last week.
“It was something we picked up,” Erickson said. “People are running it against that coverage. We picked a perfect time to throw it, against the exact defense for that play. The safeties had to play the corner route, so there was no one to cover Torain, other than the linebacker.”
• Erickson had nothing new to report on the status of tight end Brent Miller (knee) and outside linebacker Robert James (hamstring), who were hurt during Saturday’s game.
• Starting defensive tackle Michael Marquardt, who sat out on Saturday with an ankle sprain, is questionable for this week.
• Reserve DT Saia Falahola, who has been sidelined since injuring his triceps muscle at Camp Tontozona, will practice this week but likely not play, Erickson said.
• Safety Troy Nolan has four interceptions on the season, the most at ASU since Emmanuel Franklin had four in 2004. His average of one interception per game ties him for second in the nation.
• ASU is one of 23 unbeaten bowl subdivision squads, and four first-year coaches have teams with perfect records: Erickson, Mark Dantonio of Michigan State, Jeff Jagodzinski of Boston College and Brian Kelly of Cincinnati are all 4-0.
• The Sun Devils have outscored their opponents 49-7 during the last five minutes of the second quarter and the first five minutes of the third period.
• ASU should learn the kickoff time of its Oct. 6 game at Washington State today; a 12:30 p.m. telecast on FSN Arizona is likely. There are four games involving Pac-10 teams that day, and Arizona at Oregon State is the only other candidate for the 12:30 slot.
• The Sun Devils go on the road for the first time this season when they play at Stanford at 7 p.m. on Saturday. ASU has not won at Stanford since 1997, for good reason — it has not been victorious in any Pac-10 game in the state of California since beating USC in Los Angeles in 1999.
The Cardinal have displayed pluck under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, making Oregon work for a win on Saturday. Quarterback T.C. Ostrander and running back Anthony Kimble lead a productive offense, but the defense ranks 100th in the nation overall, 11th against the pass.