Every college football team is a collection of individual stories that intersect to become an overarching narrative. While only one can have the coveted happy ending, many others are considered success stories, some take the form of shallow tabloids while others are outright works of horror.
Where does ASU fall?
It doesn't take an in-depth investigation to find out the stark truth that the 2011 Sun Devils are college football's version of the hardboiled detective novel.
From it's origins in the pulp magazines of the 1920s, to the artful pen of Dashiell Hammett that inspired the classic film noir movies of the 40s, and through the modern epics of James Ellroy, the allure of the fast -talking and hard-drinking private eye has continually fascinated readers.
Standing out from such a prominent genre are the works of Raymond Chandler and his iconic private eye Philip Marlowe. Many of the cliches now so firmly associated with the era have come from his Marlowe stories, and even 60 years later those conventions fit this year's ASU football team perfectly.
Don't think so? Here are some clues.
"I hung up. It was a good start, but it didn't go far enough. I outta have locked the door and hidden under the desk." -The Little Sister
Every private investigator needs a case. Whether it's a murder investigation, missing person hunt or a search for a valuable artifact, Marlowe is just sitting around blankly in his office without a case at hand.
For the Sun Devils, the objective was clear--win the Pac-12 South. With a talented and experience roster and USC ineligible, the task seemed straightforward.
But just like every good detective story, things are never what they seem.
"I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun." - Farewell, My Lovely
The term "private eye" almost always conjures up an image of a gruff man in a trench coat and fedora. Such was the preferred look for Marlowe while on the trail.
The Sun Devils got their own distinctive look before the season, thanks to a Nike-designed university-wide rebranding. While the results haven't always been pretty, the Devils have always looked sharp. Well, there are some exceptions.
"It seemed like a good neighborhood to have bad habits in." - The Big Sleep
Marlowe's investigations took him to all types of seedy and dangerous locations. From dirty gin joints, off-shore gambling ships, threatening gambling dens and the occasional jail cell, he showed no fear--well, most of the time--in pursuing his case through the darkest corners of Los Angeles.
ASU's season has taken them to many of college football's most daunting settings.
Whether it's in the confines of the antiquated Sun Devils Stadium to the intimidating environment of Oregon's Autzen Stadium and even this week's trip up to the run-down home of Washington State, the Sun Devils have seen their share of the best and worst locales of the conference.
They can only hope their eventual destination is lined with roses.
The Femme Fatale
"I like smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin." - Farewell, My Lovely
A detective story just wouldn't be complete without the involvement of a beautiful woman, who more often than not cannot be trusted. Marlowe seems to encounter one, and sometimes many, such figures during each of his cases. He is continually tempted by their feminine wiles and can never be sure if they will help his investigation or be his ultimate undoing.
The Sun Devils have their own version of the femme fatale--Vontaze Burfict
OK, stay with me here.
Burfict was an object of adulation and praise over the offseason, with places on All-American teams coming by the bushel. He was a sexy pick to be among the nation's premier defenders.
Yet, here he is in the midst of a "down" year. Despite his uneven play, he continues to battle his old adversary--penalties. Burfict's play on the field is often a beautiful sight, but ultimately it leaves you asking yourself; can he be trusted?
"Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead." - The Big Sleep
Even if Marlowe's case didn't begin with a corpse, you can rest assured that somewhere along the way some bodies would turn up.
ASU's season has a body count to rival even the most violent of Marlowe's tales, and that's saying something.
It began in February when running back Deantre Lewis
was accidentally shot and continued into April when star cornerback Omar Bolden
and wide receiver T.J. Simpson
tore their ACLs. It was soon followed by season-ending injuries to linebacker Brandon Magee
, cornerback Devan Spann
and safety Ezekiel Bishop. The team's top pass rusher, Junior Onyeali was also lost for six weeks with a knee injury.
In football terms, that's a bloody massacre.
"I'm all done with hating you. It's all washed out of me. I hate people hard but I don't hate them very long." - The Lady in the Lake
As in any mystery, things and people are never what they appear to be. In the Marlowe novels, this is especially true, with the identity of the true criminal, or criminals, often being a complete shock.
Who was ASU's primary South division adversary?
At first glance , it would seem to be their old nemesis USC, but their sanctions eliminated them from suspicion. It has to be Utah, then! They've had three straight 10-win seasons. Ah, no, they have proven unable to handle the rigors of a major conference full time.
What? UCLA?! No one suspected the Bruins!
The Double Cross
"As honest as you can expect a man to be in a world where it's going out of style." - The Big Sleep
Figuring out the answer to the mystery invariably includes some devastating unforeseen developments. Whether it's the sexy lady, his client or even members of the police, Marlowe has been betrayed by all kinds.
Sun Devil faithful have also experienced a biting feeling of betrayal lately.
The shaky kicking of redshirt freshman Alex Garoutte
had induced ulcers during the early part of the season, but it appeared as if he had turned the corner, as he made six consecutive attempts over the prior three games.
However, he dealt a dagger directly into the back of Sun Devil nation last week. Against UCLA, Garoutte missed on all three of his attempts, including a very makeable 36-yarder with five minutes left and a 46-yarder on the game's final play.
"You're gonna take that J.C. Penney tie off and we're gonna have an old-fashioned man-to-man drinking party."
It's a moderate miracle that Marlowe is able to navigate the seedy world of Los Angeles and solve as many cases as he does considering the copious amounts of whiskey, bourbon and gin he ingests in seemingly every chapter.
ASU fans can relate. All the murders, thefts, disappearances and kidnappings in post-war LA would be hard pressed to match the amount of drinking the inconsistent play of the Sun Devils has caused this season.