With the release of the USA Today Preseason Coaches’ Poll yesterday, we got a chance to see who has the inside track towards a BCS berth. It was no surprise that the Alabama Crimson Tide, winners of the last two BCS National Championships and three of the last four, were firmly entrenched at No. 1, but there were some surprising omissions as the list worked its way down to No. 25 which could cause some head scratching. In the Pac 12, no team was a bigger snub than the up-and-coming Arizona State Sun Devils.
Todd Graham took over a Sun Devils’ program that had earned a reputation of fading down the stretch and being mentally weak when the game was on the line. He seemed to turn that around in just one season as ASU rallied down the stretch and finished the season strong with three straight wins, including a shootout win over the rival Arizona Wildcats and an impressive drubbing of the Navy Midshipmen in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Their 8-5 finish was their best record since winning 10 games in 2007.
And they are in a perfect position to be even better in 2013. Their offense is loaded with talent with quarterback Taylor Kelly poised to be a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate and a pair of running backs that could end up being the best tandem in the country. Their defense is stacked with the return of reigning Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton anchoring a stout defensive line with dynamic playmakers at linebacker and shutdown cover-men in the secondary.
Yet, despite their strong finish and returning talent, the Devils are on the outside of the Top 25 looking in. Graham has a team that is considered a darkhorse for the Pac 12 title and has this program locked in for a run at the Rose Bowl. The talent is certainly there to make a solid run at it this season, though voters don’t seem to agree. Looking at the five Pac 12 teams that did make the Top 25, you could argue that ASU has just as good a reason to be included as three of them.
The UCLA Bruins, who came in at No. 21, have questions at running back and in the secondary and got blown off the field in the Holiday Bowl to end last season. The USC Trojans, ranked No. 24, have plenty of talent, but they also did last year when they stumbled to a 7-6 record. There are also questions about their depth on defense and their quarterback play under center. The Oregon State Beavers, No. 25, started 2012 off strong, but faded down the stretch and were mandhandled in the Alamo Bowl. They have concerns about their defensive line and can’t seem to choose a quarterback.
Despite all of these glaring questions about those programs, they were deemed better than Arizona State heading into the 2013 season. The Sun Devils will have every opportunity to state their case and they currently sit just outside the top 25 in the murky “Also receiving votes” realm. Their early schedule is daunting, but provides the team with the opportunity to prove to voters that they are for real. Plus, they get UCLA, USC and Oregon State on their conference schedule to determine who is better on the field of play.
For now, they’ll have to sit unranked and stew about it until the season kicks off. Will they use this “disrespect” as motivation to come out strong in 2013 or will the voters ultimately be proven right by overlooking the Sun Devils this season?