The Arizona State Sun Devils have long been a football team in need of a spark. With as much as the university has to offer -- good weather, a great area, a good education, etc. -- you would think that the team would be a perennial powerhouse in competition for a trip to the Rose Bowl year in and year out.
But with Dennis Erickson as the coach, that simply was not the case. Despite having a team that, by all indications, seemed to possess the most talent a Sun Devil football team has had in years, they stumbled mightily. They ended up playing Boise State in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl. Not what the fans and alumni had in mind, if you ask me.
As Brad Denny says in his most recent column on House of Sparky, it was never about the talent that the team had or the shiny new uniforms they flaunted. ASU was never the so-called 'sleeping giant' that everyone wanted to claim it as. What the team really needed was a change in direction. And so far, all the changes made seem to be pointing up.
After Erickson was relieved of his duties in November of 2011, the school had one hell of a time figuring out who his replacement would be. They went back and forth with many names, including June Jones from SMU. But that deal unexpectedly fell apart at the last second, leaving many to wonder if athletic director Lisa Love truly knew what she was doing.
Then, Todd Graham seemingly fell into ASU's laps. With him, he brought a mentality that the school had not seen under Erickson's tenure. He brought with him the mindset of hard work and a set of rules that were not allowed to be broken under any circumstance.
Sure, there haven't been any games played yet. But his effect has already been noticed. And let's not forget about his first recruiting class as a Sun Devil, topped off by four-star running back, D.J. Foster.
Graham's ability to sell people with his words is something he's good at, but let's be honest, he sells a pretty good product, too. If you don't believe him, you can meet with him personally to discuss the direction the team is taking and what you envision for them. That is part of what makes him so appealing. He works with the players, fans and the community.
The coach is not the only change in the system. Quite a few of ASU's core players left after last season. Some of the bad apples, such as Vontaze Burfict, are no longer with the team, leaving a new set of young men to help rebuild. With strict instructions from Graham and a foundation to build upon, this has all of a sudden become a team poised to make great strides.
They may have never been a sleeping giant before, but perhaps soon enough, they will be. With the transformation and change of culture that the team has gone through over the past six months, they may be back in the Rose Bowl before we know it.