ASU loss would signal disaster - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

ASU loss would signal disaster

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Posted: Friday, November 25, 2005 5:05 am | Updated: 9:46 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Just less than eight minutes left in the 1995 Arizona State-Arizona game: The Sun Devils take a 28-14 lead on a 1-yard run by fullback Ryan Wood, and a delirious booster approaches quarterback Jake Plummer on the sideline.

"I won’t name who he was," Plummer recalled, "but he said, ‘Remember this. There’s not a better feeling on Earth.’

"As soon as he said it I was like, ‘Oh, (expletive).’ Sure enough, they got us."

Arizona won, 31-28, ASU was knocked out of a bowl game and 10 years later, Plummer still shakes his head in disgust at the memory.

"It was heartbreaking," he said.

It’s a pain the Sun Devils know all too well. Arizona vanquished ASU’s Rose Bowl dreams in 1982 and 1985 and sent the Sun Devils tumbling from the Fiesta Bowl to the Sun Bowl in 1997.

Each year, ASU had a better record.

Each year, it didn’t matter.

And so here the Devils are again.

Win, and they play in December. Certainly not in the bowl game they envisioned, but a bowl game nonetheless.

Lose, a disappointing season becomes a disaster, and coach Dirk Koetter will have few friends left in Tempe.

Let’s be clear: Beating a 3-7 Arizona team won’t be cause for fans to storm the goalposts. ASU had BCS aspirations, and a berth in the Insight Bowl hardly will satisfy the appetite.

As Koetter said Monday, "you don’t play for a tie for fourth in the Pac-10. That’s not how you set out any season, saying, ‘We hope we tie for fourth.’ "

Yet a victory will warm the offseason if for no other reason than a loss would reverberate around these parts for months, if not years.

First, the still mostly quiet conversation about Koetter’s job security will become a full-fledged roar.

It’s unlikely Koetter will be fired — athletic director Lisa Love has pledged her support, and she has to be talking within earshot of university president Michael Crow — but the uncertainty over Koetter’s future beyond 2006 will hurt recruiting.

Beyond that, losing would signal a power shift within the state.

While last year’s 34-27 loss can be written off as a fluke — ASU turned the ball over five times and played arguably its worst game of the season — dropping a second straight game to an inferior Arizona team would harden the belief that Mike Stoops has the Wildcats moving onward and upward.

And stepping on a plateaued ASU program in the process.

Stoops already has made progress in in-state recruiting. Beat ASU again, and he’ll have a built-in sales pitch when he sits in a recruit’s living room.

The Devils should win. They have better talent and they’re playing at home.

Wildcats freshman quarterback Willie Tuitama may be a wondrous talent, but he’ll be making just his fourth career start.

That’s a lot of pressure on an 18-year-old who has no idea what he’s in for today.

Of course, the same thing could be said about ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter.

It will be interesting to see how the Devils play if the Wildcats jump on them early. This team hasn’t handled adversity well. Losing to USC after building a 28-3 halftime lead caused a hangover that lasted three weeks.

It will be intriguing, as well, to watch the different coaching philosophies at work. Stoops wants to slow the game down and win with his defense. Koetter wants to score 50 points.

Beating Arizona won’t validate Koetter’s system — he has to defeat some top-10 teams for that to happen — but if the Wildcats are more physical on both sides of the ball, are able to run the ball and stop the run and, in the process, emerge with a victory, doubts about the way Koetter does business will only intensify.

This isn’t a nothing-to-win, everything-to-lose game for ASU. No rivalry game fits that definition.

Yet that’s how it feels.

And why it’s so dangerous.

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