Well, there goes your national championship, Sun Devil fans.
Seriously, if you walked away from your 66-inch flat screen Thursday mumbling about what could have been after Oregon beat Arizona State in front of the nation, you bit off a bigger chunk of talk show/chat room blather than you could chew.
I don’t blame the folks at ASU for hyping this game into the biggest thing since 1996 and Nebraska. Any chance to put 70,000 butts between the buttes before they downsize creaky old Sun Devil Stadium can’t be missed. There is an excitement on campus with Dennis Erickson jettisoned, Todd Graham in the saddle and some real but raw talent wearing all those mix-and-match uniforms.
But for all their advances forward and for all Graham’s comparisons to Frank Kush that I’ve heard (really?) let’s keep the expectations for the 2012 Sun Devils in perspective.
Baby steps. Baby steps.
The Ducks came to town with feathers ruffled. They were mad at being downgraded to No. 3 in the BCS poll, mad because analysts around the country weren’t impressed with their lightweight schedule and mad because an ASU team that couldn’t beat Missouri was being touted by some (you know who you are) as a serious threat.
So Oregon coach Chip Kelly pulled out his Nike whiteboard, drew up some magic, and his team put up 43 points in a little more than 14 minutes. It was nothing malicious. There wasn’t much chest beating. They just ran over the home team. As soon as they felt they made their point, they turned off the jetpacks and slipped into cruise control.
ASU isn’t in Oregon’s class. They aren’t even in the same school – yet. But they are going in the right direction and as long as they don’t flat-out quit from here on out they will be vastly improved over the embarrassing disaster of 2011. Even down 36 points, there wasn’t any quit in ASU – something that was duly noted by the opposition – and as long as Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali aren’t injured long-term, the final 30 minutes of a lost cause was important on several levels. Good lesson. Good experience.
Beat UCLA and Oregon State, move to 7-2 and bowl eligible, and suddenly the trip to Los Angeles to meet USC will have the hype machine whirring and visions of roses rampant. But even if the fans can’t keep their feet on the ground, Graham’s ability to tether his team will be important.
This is Oregon’s year in the Pac-12. This is a year for ASU to learn. But there will be other years.
Thursday’s football choices were pretty simple: You could have watched 1952 Notre Dame highlights (the NFL’s Seahawks-49ers game was 6-3 at the half and all it was missing was Lindsey Nelson’s narration) or the latest remake of “Rollerball” at Sun Devil Stadium.
Arizona State forced a turnover, lost their best defender (Sutton) to injury and scored a touchdown – all in the first 40 seconds. It took 20 seconds for the Ducks to answer with a touchdown and two-point conversion. By the time thousands of poor souls made finally made it through traffic and to their seats 15 minutes after kickoff – most of the scoring and all the drama was in the rear-view mirror.
I caught a few minutes of the NFL game. Ugh. Thought I was watching the SEC. Click.
After a 4-0 start – heretofore known as “The Best of Times,” the Cardinals have lost two straight, their starting quarterback and their top two running backs from an offense which couldn’t score in the first place. Now they go to Minnesota, where they haven’t won since “Happy Days” was the No. 1 show on TV (1977) and Dan Dierdorf was playing right tackle (oh, those were the days…).
It's not the best time in the world for a must-win game, but given the upcoming schedule (49ers, Packers, Falcons … oh my!) this is Arizona’s best chance for a win in the next month.
All those John Skelton fans out there? You know have their wish. Enjoy.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.