Scott Olmos-US PRESSWIRE
In getting their sixth win of the season, the Sun Devils likely punched their ticket to a bowl game in Todd Graham's first year. But that's far from the most important development this season.
I was wrong, and I'm happy to admit it.
Before the season, I, like most people in the media, foresaw a rough road ahead for Arizona State. In the wake of 2011's disastrous finish, both on and off the field, I felt that Todd Graham's first year in Tempe would be exceedingly difficult. To create a contender, he'd first have to tear things down and build from scratch.
Bottom line, I thought the Sun Devils had the makings of a 5-7 team this season—at best.
So when ASU throttled Washington State last Saturday for their sixth win of the season, they proved me and a lot of others wrong.
They also became bowl eligible, and now it's just a matter of figuring out where they'll be headed next month. Albuquerque for the New Mexico Bowl? Back to Vegas for the Maaco Bowl? Maybe a cross-country jaunt to D.C. for the Military Bowl?
Sure, ending any season with an extra game, being able to conduct those valuable extra practice sessions and scoring a sweet swag bag from the bowl sponsors is great (free iPads!). But for the 2012 Sun Devils, being a "bowl team" really doesn't matter that much, at least not as much as some may think.
Any bowl trip this December is not the proof of a successful season. Rather, it's merely one of long list of reasons why Graham's debut season has been a success, and its certainly not near the top.
Call it "retooling". Call it "rebuilding". Call it whatever you want, this season wasn't about competing for a division or conference title. It was about laying the foundation for next year, for 2014, for the next recruiting class and beyond. It was about waking up that "sleeping giant".
The massive change in the program's culture stands atop the list of important achievements this season. This team has found the discipline, both on and off the field, that is needed to be a potential contender. The relationships with the fans, alumni and media have been repaired, or in some cases, created. Key recruits have already been brought in, and more appear on the way.
On the field, the new systems installed on both sides of the ball have had tremendous impacts. The defense is among the elite attacking units in the nation, and the offense has shown signs that it can be a 30-point force. One area in which the program has severely deficient—player development—has already shown some major improvement. Carl Bradford, Osahon Irabor, Alden Darby and Taylor Kelly are just some of players who have made huge strides this year. Both the past and current regimes proved they can bring in talent. In 11 months, Graham and staff may have already exceeded their predecessors in what to do with that talent.
If Graham can add a win over Arizona to that mix, then you have what I'd call a smashing success.
So while it will be a lot of fun to have the Sun Devils going bowling earlier than most anyone thought, it's important to focus on the things that are far more crucial and lasting than a 13th game.