The Arizona State Sun Devils (4-1) are returning from their one week hiatus this Thursday as the head up to Colorado looking to continue their promisingly hot start against the Buffaloes.
And if you're ASU football fanatic, then this scenario probably feels all too familiar for you.
The Devils came out of the bye last season with a similarly strong record (5-2) and proceeded to demolish this same Buffs team 48-14 in front of the Tempe crowd. That obviously set the tone for the remainder of the season right?
Arizona State wouldn't win a single game for the rest of the season, losing five straight including their 56-24 MAACO Bowl loss to the Boise State Broncos. Paced by a defense that graciously allowed 40 points per game over that span, the Sun Devils closed out 2011 looking just about as uninspired as a collection of collegiate athletes can possibly be.
Now I know most of you will say this won't happen again with the way Todd Graham have carefully molded the psyche of this roster and there is a lot of actual conviction in that belief. Yet at the same time, I can't help but possibly think that this team (or mainly its incredibly dedicated and entertaining promotional department) is already focusing too much on this Oregon game ahead.
No, I'm not hinting at a possible upset this week or something. I'm just saying this team needs to bottle the hunger it's shown the first five games and release it on weekly basis no matter if they're playing they're playing a pipsqueak powder puff squad or the No. 2 team in the nation.
I too hold the theory that Graham won't allow his team to ever be content but the sports pessimist in me can't help but recall the train wreck of events that was the end of 2011.
Tired of my rant yet? Alright, alright, you don't have to yell. I'll get to the damn preview already:
Here's a secret I'm not exactly proud of: I'm a bit of a fan of QB Jordan Webb. And when I share that information, Pac-12 fans usually tear me to shreds. But alas, it's the sad, sad truth.
To be honest, I'm not sure what I see in him; he's got a popgun of an arm and he's never been a winner at any of his stops. Nevertheless, I've always held the theory that he's the type of guy that with the proper talent around him, he can put his team in positions to win some games.
As you might have guessed by their record though, Colorado hasn't given Webb much to work with since he transferred from Kansas. And with not any legitimate weapons to work with, Webb's greatest assets (his toughness and his scrappiness) go to waste.
I shouldn't imply the cupboard is entirely bare in Colorado though. Freshman bruiser Christian Powell brings an old-school, smash-mouth type of game to the running back position that can wear thin a defense or close out games when necessary. The Buffaloes also have an excellent complement to Powell in the form of the elusive Tony Jones. Jones is skilled pass catcher out of the backfield that often operates as safety net for Webb. But while he can do some damage in space, Jones hasn't shown that every down back ability yet. That could be a serious issue for the Buffs come Thursday with Powell's status still up in the air due to a hip injury.
WR Paul Richardson also would have been a huge in Webb's cause to lead his team out of the Pac-12 cellar but unfortunately he's still working his way back from an ACL injury and isn't expected to play at all in 2012. Tyler McCulloch is the most imposing of this pass-catching group at 6'5 but his deep threat ability is mostly wasted due to Webb's lack of arm strength. He is still a handful though when it comes to the goal line, especially defenses also have to focus in on 6'6 TE Nick Kasa.
Rounding out the receiving are two freshman with redshirt Nelson Spruce bringing a balance repertoire to the position thanks to his advanced play and Gerald Thomas showing an early knack for finding soft spots in the defense. Both players can fool you with their speed but are still works in progress and it can show sometimes.
The most disappointing aspect of Colorado's offense though has to be their offensive line. With big time talents like center Gus Handler and Pac-12 second-team tackle David Bakhtiari, this unit was expected to set the pace for the rest of the offense. Instead, they've already allowed 22 sacks in five games which is only second behind Cal for the most in the nation. Will Sutton and company are licking their chops at the thought of matching up against these gentlemen.
The Buffaloes' defense have some individuals that stand out to you but remain a highly flawed front and therefore implement multiple schemes to try and hide those flaws. And considering they're 115th in scoring defense, you can tell that it's not exactly working out so far.
The big new here is that Colorado will be getting back free safety Ray Polk back from his ankle injury. Polk, arguably the team's best player, has been out since Sept. 1 and the team has missed his leadership presence sorely. The Senior Scottsdale native is an instinctual playmaker who can read offense almost naturally while bringing some sure-handed tackling to the secondary.
Strong safety Terrel Smith has also been a bright spot on the team so far with 40 tackles and cornerbacks Greg Henderson and Kenneth Crawley round out a slightly underrated secondary. Both outside defensive backs are mentally tough with the freshman Crawley showing some serious composure thus far.
In front of them, Jon Major and Derrick Webb have held down the linebacker position well but it's obvious they'd both look better if Doug Rippy (knee) was lined up next to them. Both are fundamentally sound yet still have a tendency to be overly aggressive and get out of place, a flaw that Rippy would help cover up if he was around.
As for the front four, the Buffaloes mostly use a 4-3 with defense end Chidera Uzo-Diribe being a pleasant surprise in the pass rush department (five sacks). The man is built like a ginormous linebacker with quick twitch strength and speed that can be a nightmare for flat-footed defenders. Additionally, freshman Josh Tupou has an NFL-like body at 6'3, 325 pounds and plays just like the full grown man you'd expect. Senior Will Pericak also brings some serious experience to this young front four as a disciplined yet versatile athlete. He will need to be accounted for at all times.
ASU X-Factor: LB Brandon Magee - Magee stated his intentions earlier in the week to "pitch a shutout" in Colorado. And for that to happen, he's going to be required to fly around the field Thursday. Magee has totaled 31 tackles in his past three games and will be asked to stop the powerful Powell as one of the team's larger linebackers. Even if Powell doesn't play, Magee will still have his hands full with Jones and those swing passes so look for Magee to be around the ball even more than usual on Thursday.
Final Prediction: Arizona State 37, Colorado 17 - Yeah, it ain't going to be close. This team is going to want to send a message to the nation as they're already on the verge of being in the top 25. I don't think Graham let's his men take any opponent lightly, especially with this program's lack of consistent road success in the past. If they can swallow up the run, Colorado wont stand a chance. This defense will be teeing off on Webb with only a Swiss cheese offensive line to protect him. There might be the occasional ugly patch but some big plays will more than make up for those. Expect this team to be ranked heading into next week's game against Oregon.