This week, the typical Arizona State football player devoted three hours each day to film study of Nevada-Las Vegas, today’s opponent.
Add school and practice, and the Sun Devils have not had much time to think ahead to next week’s game against second-ranked Georgia, which would — gasp! — violate one of football’s most sacred unwritten rules:
Never, ever overlook anybody.
“Oh, it’s a written rule, not an unwritten one,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. “The guys know what is at stake every time we play. They’re preparing, and I thought we practiced as well as we have all year (on Tuesday). To me, that’s what it’s about, how you prepare. UNLV is capable of beating us, no question about it.”
Sun Devil fans are long past ready to erupt with excitement at the impending Georgia visit, which has become the highest-profile, most-hyped regular-season game in school history.
The nationally televised game is sold out, more than 350 media credentials have been issued, and ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew might come to Tempe.
However, the 15th-ranked Sun Devils say that tsunami of anticipation surrounds them, not engulfs them. Their focus is on UNLV.
“The coaches have mentioned it a few times, but we typically stay focused,” receiver Kerry Taylor said. “We know that we have to come out and take care of UNLV. A part of us is anxious for Georgia, but that game will get here when it gets here. It won’t mean much if we don’t take care of business against UNLV.”
How challenging is it for players to not have their minds wander to a game that everyone around them has been talking about for months?
“Most of the time, the fans are doing all of the talking,” Taylor said, “and if you just nod and agree with them, they’ll be happy.”
Taylor cited his sophomore year at Chandler Hamilton High School, when the Huskies were so fired up for their next opponent, archrival Chandler, that they did not pay enough attention to Gilbert Highland. The lesson was learned when Highland dealt Hamilton a homecoming defeat.
At the college level, the looking-ahead explanation — or is it excuse? — has been used for Kansas State (1998), Southern California (2006) and West Virginia (2007), who needed only to defeat clearly inferior opponents to earn the right to play for the national championship. All three lost.
Last week, Ohio State was trailing going into the fourth quarter against lowly Ohio, resulting in suggestions that the Buckeyes had one eye on today’s matchup against top-ranked USC.
“I think that there can be something to it,” ASU linebacker Mike Nixon said. “Maybe a team has an off day. For the opponent, it might be their biggest game of the year, and they play above their normal level. A combination of the right or wrong things, and you have the perfect storm where you have the Appalachian State-Michigan game.”
This is not to say that Sunday will be the first time an ASU coach or player will pop in film of Georgia or think about the game plan against the Bulldogs. Believing that stretches naivete to new levels.
However, during his tenure at ASU, Erickson’s teams always have beaten the teams they should beat, indicating that the Sun Devils can prepare for the upcoming opponent without being distracted.
UNLV coach Mike Sanford need not worry about ASU taking UNLV lightly, Nixon said.
“We’re not good enough at what we do to look past a team, show up on Saturday and win,” Nixon said. “If we are not 100 percent committed, we are going to get embarrassed. If we go into the Georgia game with a loss, it loses a lot of its luster.”