BERKELEY, Calif. - With apologies to fictional basketball coach Norman Dale of “Hoosiers” fame, it would not be farfetched to imagine Dirk Koetter, tape measure in hand, taking his Arizona State football players on the field at Memorial Stadium, hours before today’s game.
After confirming that the end zones are 10 yards deep and the goalpost crossbar 10 feet high, the coach might say, “See? This field is of the same dimensions as ours back at Sun Devil Stadium.”
Such a pep talk probably will not take place, but it could not hurt as ASU begins a season-defining three-game stretch by trying to break a lengthy oh-fer in Pac-10 contests in California. The Sun Devils have lost 12 straight league games in the Golden State since a victory at Southern California on Nov. 6, 1999.
“A focus that coach Koetter has installed in us this year is that a football field is 120 yards long, no matter where you will go,” reserve cornerback Chad Green said. “We have to execute well wherever we play, whether it’s Alaska or Timbuktu.”
No. 22 ASU (3-0) begins its Pac-10 schedule at California today. After a home game against 13th-ranked Oregon, the Sun Devils play at No. 3 USC, the three-time defending conference champion.
No one suggests that there is a left-coast curse on the Sun Devils, nor has their lack of victories in California hampered recruiting efforts in the state that produces more NFL players than any other.
“In terms of winning at a certain place, that’s overrated,” Allen Wallace, scout.com national recruiting editor, told the Tribune last year. “Wins and losses, in general, are not the most vital aspects of recruiting. Kids think about so many other things.”
Koetter has never heard from a California recruit who was eschewing ASU because it lost to USC, UCLA, Stanford or California.
“I haven’t recruited a kid who has never lost a game,” Koetter said. “If a kid like that comes along, he is free to critique us on the games we’ve lost and where we’ve lost them.”
But if ASU, 22nd in The Associated Press rankings and 18th in the USA Today (coaches) poll, wants the national statement it longs to make, the Sun Devils will have to win one of their next two games in California.
“This is the chance of a lifetime for us,” quarterback Rudy Carpenter said. “We’re 3-0 and playing a team that we have a chance to beat. We can beat this team if we want to. But we have to go in there and play well. If we do and win, we’ll be sky high for Oregon.”
The last few days, ASU has trumpeted the fact that it has won five of its last seven games away from Tempe — a figure that includes two bowls at neutral sites, one of them last year’s Insight Bowl in Phoenix — while trying its best not to think about the California conference losing streak.
“People are going to say what they are going to say,” Koetter said. “We’re preparing the same way we prepare for anybody. I’ve heard a lot of stats the last few weeks about how we’ve done on the road. I’d rather not keep track of that stuff. I’d rather focus on beating Cal.”
For the Sun Devil players that are from California, a bigger motivation to win there than ending the Pac-10 losing streak is besting players that were high school teammates or adversaries.
Carpenter, who is from Newbury Park, Calif., said facing the familiar faces is one of the things that make games in California more intense. Green (Van Nuys, Calif.) said that on-field chatter is frequent, and wide receiver Terry Richardson (Corona, Calif.) often gets phone calls from his former high-school playing peers.
“We played in high school all-star games together, and some of us go as far back as Pop Warner football,” Green said. “Any Saturday, you might line up against a guy who got the best of you in high school, and now, it’s your turn to get the best of him. The intensity rises in those games.”
While the Sun Devils promise to be an intense squad today, Richardson said that the site of the game will not have them intimidated.
“It’s not a psychological thing that will hold us back,” Richardson said. “We don’t talk about it a lot. The past is the past. I don’t know why people keep bringing (the losing streak) up, really. This is a different team with different players. . . .
“For us, playing in California is no different than if we were playing at a Florida or Alabama school. We’re going to play the same.”
ARIZONA STATE AT CALIFORNIA
12:30 p.m. today, FSN Arizona
Koetter in California
How the Arizona State football team has performed in Pac-10 games in California under coach Dirk Koetter:
Sept. 22 at Stanford, lost 51-28
Oct. 13 at USC, lost 48-17
Dec. 1 at UCLA, lost 52-42
Nov. 16 at USC, lost 34-13
Oct. 25 at UCLA, lost 20-13
Nov. 8 at Stanford, lost 38-27
Oct. 16 at USC, lost 45-7
Oct. 30 at California, lost 27-0
Oct. 22 at Stanford, lost 45-35
Nov. 12 at UCLA, lost 45-35