Arizona State beat Navy to such a degree, one might feel unpatriotic watching the carnage. Six-hundred yards of offense on one side of the ball. The starting defense only gave up one touchdown. This was a mauling.
It's easier to describe the times at the beginning of a Dickens' novel than to really quantify the size of this win. On the one hand you beat a service academy in a lower-tier bowl game, so it's not that big of a win. On the other hand, you had a national TV spotlight to showcase a 600-yard offense to recruits while showing any teenage defenders an attacking/hard-hitting defense. From that stand point, and compared to the alternative of losing, this was a huge game for ASU.
The deep ball to Rashad Ross has been open all year. The problem has been the inability to complete the play. Ross' best route running and, simply holding onto the ball, came at a time where wide receiver recruits are looking at their televisions thinking, "that could be me." Although Marion Grice won the offensive MVP, chicks dig the long ball, and so do recruits.
ASU fans should feel great about the direction of the program. Eight wins. Beating U of A. Finishing one second behind winning the Pac-12 South. A returning QB who's excellent when judged through the prism of college and not the NFL. A returning tight end who is putting up numbers to compare to the great tight ends of the past at ASU. Grice and D.J. Foster returning to give punch to the backfield.
However, there's still so much to prove. Where is the signature non-conference win? Who was the victim of national noise-making victory? When the biggest fight of the year comes against Washington in a board room for who goes to the Vegas Bowl, there's a lot of ground that still needs to be covered.
So what needs to happen in the offseason? Here's the checklist:
Don't talk the big game. Do it.
I guarantee some small programs have talked to offensive coordinator Mike Norvell hoping for him to become their head coach. I would be willing to bet the farm that some major schools, including recent national champions, have made a run at hiring Norvell to run their offense. Consistency is a huge key to keeping the train on the track.
If you're a major program, your major assistants leave for major head coaching jobs. If you're small-time, your assistants leave for the job before the next job. Will Muschamp left Texas as an assistant to become the head coach of Florida. If Mike Norvell leaves to become a coordinator somewhere else, it shows ASU didn't want to commit the resources to become a championship team. Sign the man to big money. Then announce it to the world every other young assistant coach thinks ASU is the place to be.
Where do you think these revenues come from? ASU did nothing to shed the national label of having a weak fan base. If you can't sell out a 10,000 allotment of Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl tickets, why would a higher bowl want you? There are always ties between schools for different bowl positions. The winner is determined by one thing: fan support. When you don't buy tickets, bowls don't listen to the school's administration politicking for a higher bowl. It's clear by the lack of support that ASU fans love mediocrity because not enough of them want to do what it takes to get out of it.
Do it again. Have a similar season again. Maybe add a non-conference road win or beat USC. Matching this year is important because you won games with great athletes. Dennis Erickson had a philosophy that he would just out-athlete you and deal with the discipline problems later. Graham did a brilliant job molding undisciplined athletes into principled, selfless men. He deserves a ton of credit but so do Brandon Magee and Cameron Marshall. This season wouldn't have gone as well without those two leaders. In year two of the Graham regime, it will be much easier from a discipline and installation standpoint, but Graham must replace the athleticism he was given.
Do it again. Read defenses even faster. Slow the game down even more. Improve your accuracy despite the fact that it's already a strength. Leading as underdog is not that difficult. Everyone looks at the underdog as "one of us." You are no longer the "long-shot" QB coming into camp. You are the undisputed leader of the 2013 Arizona State Sun Devils. You must act like the leader without changing anything about your personality. You still must be able to be "one of the guys" while all those guys are following you. No single player's level of improvement will have a bigger impact on the Pac-12 South race than Taylor Kelly's.
Change nothing about yourself but never forget one thing, they're 19! No matter how confident you are that your team can convert aggressive plays from inside your 5-yard line at the end of the first half, they're still 19. They will screw it up from time to time. I know it's hard but you must take the power out of their hands.
Talk more ASU on your talk show. Even if the show is not a charity event that talks about every team evenly. Even if the show topics are dictated by ratings and ticket sales. Begin each season with a fresh mind. Allow the fans to lose coverage through their lack of support as opposed to going into the year negatively assuming ASU fans will never earn it.
STATE OF ARIZONA HIGH SCHOOL COACHES:
Drop any remaining grudges from the Erickson regime. It's not the current regime's fault that Erickson ignored you. He was wrong to think he was the gift of Southern California recruiting. He was wrong to dismiss most Arizona talent as not worth his time. Don't hold all of ASU responsible for the actions of a few. Judge this coaching staff on the same standards you judge yourself.
2013 will either be step two in the process of building a champion or just an upwards climb of a roller coaster with the hill on the other side.