Following a successful first year under head coach Todd Graham, the Arizona State Sun Devils are understandably excited about improving on their success in 2013. But what will constitute a successful follow-up for the Sun Devils? Graham and his coaching staff are making their expectations clear and lofty this spring: It’s Rose Bowl Game or bust for ASU next fall.
As their first spring practice was coming to a close, an Arizona State staff member planted a sign on the practice field for the whole team could see it. It was a picture of the Rose Bowl trophy, letting every football player know exactly what they were working for this spring and over the summer. The coaching staff’s message has been “Win the Rose Bowl” at every turn, and they won’t let anyone slow them down.
The spring practices have been running at a fast pace as Graham hopes to pick up the tempo in 2013. Anyone that doesn’t go all-out is quickly removed from the practice field until they’re ready to give it their all. Even the kicker, who jogged out to try a field goal during the practice, was sent off the field because, as Graham reminded him, “We’re trying to win a Rose Bowl, you got me?”
While every other Pac 12 school has the Rose Bowl among their goals for next season as well, Arizona State is making it a rally cry. According to sophomore defensive tackle Jaxon Hood talking to azcentral sports, the message is loud and clear.
“We’ve been talking about the Rose Bowl for so long, I don’t remember when it was first brought up. I hear ‘Rose Bowl’ in my sleep. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t hear about Rose Bowls.
“Since I stepped foot on this campus, I haven’t heard ‘Fear the Fork,’ I haven’t heard ‘Sparky.’ I’ve heard Rose Bowl more than any other word on this campus. And that’s the truth. … That’s all we talk about, and that’s what we’re about to go get.”
It’s a lofty goal for a program that hasn’t won a Rose Bowl since 1987, but it’s indicative of the winning culture that Graham is working on creating in Tempe. The path to get there will be difficult, as the Devils face the Wisconsin Badgers, Stanford Cardinal, USC Trojans and Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a four-week stretch that will help tell us if the Rose Bowl is a reachable goal or merely a pipe dream for this ASU team.
They have plenty of talent to compete in the Pac 12 next season. Taylor Kelly returns on offense at quarterback and Pat Tillman Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton is back to anchor the defensive line. In all, ASU returns seven starters on offense and eight on defense, making them an experienced group who will be dangerous in the Pac 12 South.
But this team won’t be satisfied with just being “dangerous.” They want the Granddaddy of them all, and their journey to Pasadena is already underway this spring. Does ASU have enough to get over the top in 2013 or will it be just another runner-up season in the desert?