What a difference a year makes for the Arizona State Sun Devils. After falling behind 27-17 to they Arizona Wildcats, they rallied for 24 fourth quarter points to defeat the Wildcats 41-34 on Saturday night. With the win, ASU improved to 7-5 and 5-4 in the Pac-12. They pull ahead of Arizona in the conference standings and force them to fall to 7-5 (4-5).
Last season ASU finished 6-6 and went to the Vegas Bowl. It is projected that ASU will be returning to the Vegas Bowl this year.
So why does one more win and the same bowl game feel so different?
Because it is.
Last season, the Devils entered the year talking about winning the Pac-12 South. That team fell below every single expectation, and then, on top of that, lost to rival Arizona. The team had a truckload of seniors leaving the team and the coaching staff was let go.
There was no sense of optimism at all. Whoever the coach was going to be, it would be a long year. Only now, Todd Graham taught this team to win.
The game on Saturday was sort of a microcosm of the team's transformation.
They fell behind, getting penalized several times. Then they battled back, cleaned up their play and were mentally tough.
The previous ASU team would have fallen behind, given one good push and then given up.
That is where things are changing. ASU is getting smaller victories. They are winning recruits here locally. They are playing more disciplined football. They are beginning to win on the road and they are winning the rivalry game.
Sure, the results look awfully similar, but the big difference is that while last year's squad left a team in decline, the team now is in an upswing.
Some might say that we ought not accept mediocrity. That is good and well, but after having plain bad teams or disappointing ones, we now get to see something better than a train wreck. Accepting a talent-deficient traffic does not necessarily produce champions. But you don't go from bad to championship contender in one year and as such, the fans will take the steps the program has made. Until expectations reset and the Devils fall short of them, Sun Devil fans have a lot to be happy about. "Speaking victory" has become "winning victories."