The Rollercoaster Ride of 2017 for Arizona State Football
By Michael Baron // Football Beat Writer for Blaze Sports
TEMPE, AZ — ASU’s 2017 regular season is over. The Sun Devils finish 7-5 overall, 6-3 in Pac-12 Conference play. The Devils’ season is not over yet as a bowl game has yet to be determined. Looking back at this season of Sun Devil football, there were plenty of ups and downs.
We saw big wins and crushing defeats. We even witnessed head coach Todd Graham, after six years at the helm of Sun Devil football, being fired one day after the conclusion of the regular season.
How did it all unfold?
Let’s take a look back at the last 13 weeks.
At ASU’s bye week, the Sun Devils were 2-3 overall and 1-1 in Pac-12 Conference play. Their most recent game was a 34-24 loss at Stanford and coming up after the bye was a Saturday night showdown with the No. 5 undefeated Washington Huskies.
Entering Oct. 14, ASU was a double-digit underdog at home. However, what seemed like a completely different team took the field in Tempe, shocking the Huskies and the nation with a 13-7 win. It was a memorable night for the Maroon and Gold faithful, as the Sun Devils knocked off a top-5 team for the first time since 1996. It was a scene of absolute joy and elation as the Inferno, along with the fans, rushed the field upon the clock hitting 0:00.
One week later, many (including myself) were wondering after the previous performance versus UW, could the Sun Devils do it again, this time on the road? Was it a fluke? The Sun Devils shut out the Utes for the entirety of the first half en route to a 30-10 victory. Suddenly, ASU was 4-3 overall and 3-1 in conference play, building momentum for a big showdown.
The final up of the regular season came on Senior Day at Sun Devil Stadium in the 91st edition of the Territorial Cup.
The last time ASU and Arizona met, ASU was blasted 56-35 in Tucson, falling to 5-7 and missing out on a “postseason” appearance. This time around, both teams had reached bowl eligibility and the setting was Sun Devil Stadium.
In front of a sold-out crowd, the Sun Devils came back down 24-14 at halftime to win 42-30 and take back the Territorial Cup.
Revenge had been served.
One could say ASU’s start to 2017 was a bit of a disappointment. After a 37-31 win over New Mexico State, ASU fell to San Diego State 30-20 and on the road at Texas Tech 52-45. The Sun Devils had a losing record and entering conference play, the future did not look particularly bright in Tempe.
Perhaps the biggest down for ASU came after the team had built up a lot of momentum. ASU had an opportunity to tie for the lead in the Pac-12 South, but the next game on the schedule was USC.
Entering Oct. 28, the Devils had won two straight games by a combined score of 43-17. Meanwhile, the Trojans had been decimated the week before 49-14 at the hands of longtime rival Notre Dame in South Bend. It seemed like the Devils could take advantage of the depleted Trojans, but USC quarterback Sam Darnold and the Trojans had other plans in mind.
Southern Cal completed flipped the script and gashed ASU 48-17 in Tempe. With the win, the Trojans took ahold of the Pac-12 South while the Sun Devils fell to 3-2 in conference play. In the course of one game, all of the built-up momentum ASU had gathered since the bye week had seemingly all but vanished.
Another down after Oct. 28 vs. Southern Cal came courtesy of the USC’s crosstown rival, UCLA. At the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, ASU started out with a 14-0 lead, but Josh Rosen and the Bruins rebounded and ultimately emerged on top, 44-37. In the second half, ASU had trouble reaching the end zone as the Devils had to settle for Brandon Ruiz field goals of 22, 22 and 23 yards, respectively.
The Bruins’ win was also the final “W” in head coach Jim Mora’s tenure at UCLA.
After 13 weeks of football, ASU wraps up its regular season 7-5 overall, along with a 6-3 Pac-12 Conference record. Ups and downs abound to say the least, but senior running back Demario Richard summed it up after the win over in-state rival Arizona.
“In the beginning of the year, we were only predicted to win three games,” Richard said. “We exceeded expectations.”
Considering what looked like a bleak outlook for the 2017 season in August, seven games in the win column is an achievement. Reaching a bowl game is an accomplishment. Taking back the Territorial Cup at home on Senior Day is a bright spot. The Sun Devils also finished the season second in the Pac-12 South standings. Keep in mind, ASU was picked to finish second-to-last in the south division before the season began.
But perhaps the biggest story of this season was head coach Todd Graham’s dismissal from ASU football. Graham had served in the role since 2011, taking over for Dennis Erickson. Graham’s tenure saw a revitalization of the program, guiding the Devils to two 10-win seasons and five bowl games.
“When it comes to making sure that your student-athletes are good citizens and good role models and have proper conduct and behavior, coach Todd Graham has been competitively consistent and we will applaud him for that,” said Ray Anderson, Vice President for University Athletics, in a press conference Sunday. “But I also must measure competitive consistency on what happens on the field because, at the end of the day, that’s what a head coach is primarily charged to do.”
Sun Devil Stadium also saw some changes, including upgrades to stadium infrastructure and the introduction of the “Double Inferno” student sections in the north and south end zones.
“ASU and ASU football is a much better place today than it was six years ago when Todd Graham took over,” Anderson said.
Despite the improvements, there were disappointments.
Last season did not go Graham’s way at all and ended on one of the sourest notes possible. A 56-35 beatdown at the hands of a 2-9 Arizona Wildcats team in Tucson.
The Sun Devils lost both the Territorial Cup and the prospect of bowl eligibility on the same night, finishing 2016 with a 5-7 record. The Devils also ended that season on a six-game losing streak. Graham’s status as head coach was coming under intense scrutiny.
“I…certainly didn’t judge Todd on any one game or loss,” Anderson said. “Rather, I’ve got to look at the body of work and then honestly assess if going forward we will be able to elevate this program to the levels that we aspire.”
“In my view, everything is judged on competitive consistency,” Anderson said. “Competitive consistency is comprised of recruiting, developing players you recruit into here, developing and retaining your assistant coaches and then in game preparation and in-game management.”
Though the Sun Devils reached 7-5 in 2017, the results did not sit well with everyone.
“We have been average. 7-5 and second place in a riddled Pac-12 South is not our aspiration,” Anderson said. “We deserve more. We have the capacity and the university and the community that deserves more and I, very frankly, should demand more.”
So Anderson and Sun Devil Athletics now are tasked with finding the next head coach in ASU football history.
How will that work?
“We’re going to do it in a very urgent and quiet search,” Anderson said. “The search process will begin immediately and will be done in earnest.”
Michael Baron is a football reporter for Blaze Sports. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Michael on Twitter @Michael_Baron96