Dennis Erickson came to the desert with a strong resume that included National Championships, but like coaches in any sport will tell you, paper doesn't win you games. Since he arrived on the Tempe campus in 2007, he's crafted a 23-24 record and, with the loss last weekend to Stanford, they've now assured themselves of another season without a bowl appearance. Yes, there's been talk of below .500 teams being allowed into a bowl game simply to fill a void, but if ASU has any pride and dignity, they would decline any such offer if it were to arise.
Just yesterday, ASU Athletic Director Lisa Love told listeners on Sports 620 KTAR that the veteran coach would be returning in 2011. At 4-6, the Devils still have two games remaining, meaning there's a real possibility they could finish at 4-8. The optimist says they could also win the final two games to go 6-6.
With games remaining against UCLA (November 26 at home) and the in-state rivalry game against U of A on December 2, the Devils do still have room for improvement. A lifeless Bruins team fell last night at Washington and this game has victory written all over it, but these Devils have made nothing easy for themselves this season. The Arizona game presents a whole different set of dynamics. The ‘Cats have suddenly skidded a bit and that skid will likely continue this weekend against Oregon, but they will be playing for a more quality bowl invite and will be looking to take out their recent frustrations on the Devils.
With all this in mind, why was it necessary for Love to announce that Erickson will be back next season? Some would argue that in order to salvage recruiting, you needed to quell any concerns from potential ASU recruits who may have wavered in their desire to come to ASU.
Understandable to some degree, but let's be realistic here -- it's not like ASU is sitting on top of big-time recruiting class. In fact, a recent check of recruiting site Rivals.com -- the most respected and followed recruiting site -- shows the Devils' 2011 class is not even ranked in the top 50! There are six other Pac-10 schools ahead of them in the national recruiting rankings and, in breaking it down by conference, Rivals has ASU listed at number nine, just ahead of Oregon State, but behind Washington State, of all teams. There's never any good logical reason for Washington State to ever be ahead of ASU in recruiting, ever!! If you've been to the Paloose, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Would waiting until the full body of work was completed in a couple of weeks really have been too long to wait to officially declare the coach was coming back? Based on a few of the message boards, it's not like ASU fans are breathing a huge sigh of relief that the decision has been made. Those who bleed maroon and gold don't want to see their beloved alma mater humiliated in the Territorial Cup matchup and if that happens, it won't sit well with ASU supporters.
In light of today's story about President Michael Crow's vision for the ASU campus and, more specifically, the sports venues being renovated, you want to know that your big-time donors are happy with the direction of the sports programs. Granted, the majority of these renovations will be paid for through a sports district legislation that was passed by the Arizona legislature recently, but it won't be able to cover all of the future costs of this grand plan. It's a documented fact that football is the economic engine that makes a university's sports programs and budgets work, and if your football team is not winning, the trickledown effect is felt across all the sports programs.
As I stated in an earlier article, this fall the Pac-10 is ripe to be had, what with USC in the midst of sanctions, and the program that wins and recruits the best over the next two to three years will be poised to gain control before the Trojans can restore order.
The Devils have teased their fans all season long. They have been in virtually every ball game with the exception of Cal. It's easy to say a play here or a play there and, at the very least, ASU is sitting at 7-3. While that's true, looking on the flip side, you have to ask why weren't they able to close out those games?
You can point to turnovers, and there have been plenty by this Jekyll and Hyde offense (-7 in turnover margin). You can point to ill-timed penalties and an overall volume of penalties (second-most penalized in the Pac-10). In close games like this, you'd also have to take a long hard look at coaching, from playcalling to allowing the out-of-control play of immensely talented LB Vontaze Burfict to cost your team potential wins. Burfict has been guilty of numerous personal infractions that have come at the most inopportune times during games and have allowed opponents to keep drives alive that eventually resulted in scores. Yes, he's in the top 10 in tackles in the conference, but if the coach is going to be back next season, he must bring down the hammer on the underclassmen and make it clear that his selfish, stupidity won't continue to sit well, not only with his coaches but his teammates. Until the coach hammers this home by cutting his playing time, the player won't get the message.
With so many underclassmen playing key roles this season, there is cause for some optimism, but if you're an ardent Devils fan, it must be guarded optimism. Erickson must demonstrate he has full control of this team and he must also restore his ability to recruit playmakers on both sides of the ball. Having covered high school sports in this area for several years, I can tell you that there are plenty of potential Sun Devils right here in our own backyard. They may not all pass the eyeball test in terms of having that 6'3, 245 frame, but the Devils don't need any more of those kind of players. No, what the Devils need are kids whose heart jumps out of their chest when you talk about football. The Devils need kids who want to compete until the final whistle and who won't tolerate stupidity on the football field by their teammates.
You wonder why the Boise States and TCUs have been successful lately? They go after the kids who've been told they "can't" or the kids who weren't quite good enough to make it at the "Big" institutions. These kids have a drive to succeed that far outweighs anything you'll find on a stat sheet. If the Devils and Erickson want to find success, they better revise the blueprint and make the changes fast or they'll find themselves on the outer circle of the soon to be new look Pac-10.