For Arizona State running back Cameron Marshall, statistics like seven losses, 0-4 in the Pac-12 and 117th in defensive points per game can only be described as one thing: statistics. Marshall knows just as well as anyone that the game isn't played on paper and that if they underestimate the Buffaloes, they could very well be the butt of many jokes come Sunday.
"The challenge always is that you [might take] an opponent lightly," Marshall said. "We're not doing that with Colorado. We know that they have a good football team."
However, Marshall is very aware of two statistics: the Sun Devils are 2-2 coming out of the first bye under Head Coach Dennis Erickson and are 5-6 after the first week of rest since 2000. And to avoid another humiliating 50-17 romping like the one the had at Cal last year coming out of the bye, Erickson has been preaching a new gospel.
"[Erickson] wants us to be focused for the five-game stretch but he always says every week in our team meetings 'one game at a time' and 'don't take teams for granted,'" Marshall said. "That's how teams lose games that they shouldn't lose."
And this is one game they certainly shouldn't lose.
Opening the weekend favored by an unfathomable 31 points, it's well known the Devils clearly have the upper hand. It doesn't help the Buffs' cause that they may be without their starting quarterback (Tyler Hansen), leading rusher (Rodney Stewart) and number one receiver (Paul Richardson) to add to absences from their leading tackler, linebacker Douglas Rippy (torn ACL) and safety Ray Polk (who has a concussion and cracked sternum). But Marshall knows just because Colorado has been forced to use the "next man up" mentality all season doesn't mean that they should be seen as any less threatening.
"They've got some injuries and they got some young guys [stepping up] but that doesn't make us respect them any less," Marshall said. "They're still a good football team despite their record and we're going to be ready for them."
In fact, Marshall might be as ready as he's ever been since week one. After Erickson gave him the bye week off to rest up his numerous injuries, including his pesky ankle, the bruising running back says he "definitely" feels refreshed and ready to go.
"I feel like I'm getting good old me back, kind of like what I was feeling in camp. It's promising to see."
That's something ASU fans everywhere are hoping for. After starting the season hot with two touchdowns in the opener, Marshall has had an up-and-down season, with valleys as low as averaging 2.2 yards a carry in Utah and peaks as high as his breakthrough performance against USC (25 carries, 141 yards and three touchdowns). And even though much of that can be accredited to a number of nagging injuries, Marshall still refuses to use that as a crutch.
"You expect [injuries] when you play football; I don't ever expect to be 100%," Marshall said. "Obviously, I would have liked to have been healthier but at the same time, that is just what I was dealt this year. I was banged up early and just had to find a way to get through it."
And that's exactly what Marshall's done this season, persevering through every speed bump that's come his way and starting all seven games in the absence of his backfield mate Deantre Lewis (red-shirting after gunshot injury). Then again, it doesn't hurt that Marshall keeps his 5'11'', 215 pound frame filled to the brim with optimism.
"I keep my spirits high [because] I don't like to dwell on things I can't control. I can do my rehab and do everything it takes to get better. Outside of the that, it's out of my hands."
What is firmly in his hands (and the hands of every Sun Devil football player for that matter) is the bid to represent the Pac-12 South. So it's time for Marshall and the rest to stay true to their word and play a entire 60 minutes of smash-mouth, full-throttle football, no matter the record of the opponent. Or risk falling out of the driver's seat to the inaugural Pac-12 Championship game for the first time all season.