Make or Break Stretch for Arizona State Sun Devils Kicks Off Saturday
Todd Graham has not been shy about the expectations he has for the Arizona State Sun Devils in 2013. He believes his team is ready to take it to the next level and make a serious run for the Rose Bowl as champions of the Pac 12. To get there, ASU will have to prove themselves and their road to Pasadena begins with a brutal early stretch that starts with the No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers in Tempe.
Through two games, Wisconsin has outscored its opponents 93-0, though those opponents have been the UMass Minutemen and FCS Tennessee Tech. This will be the Badgers’ first test under new head coach Gary Andersen, but so far they’ve looked strong. In each of the first two games, three different players have rushed for 100-yards or more and the defensive transition to a 3-4 scheme has yet to yield a single point.
Both of those statistical achievements will likely come to an end on Saturday. ASU looks to have one of the best defensive fronts in the Pac 12 and perhaps the country. Anchored by Will Sutton in the middle, the Sun Devils are going to make things difficult for the Wisconsin running game. That will force quarterback Joel Stave into more passing situations which will allow Sutton and outside linebacker Carl Bradford (23.5 combined sacks in 2012) to pin their ears back.
On offense, Arizona State will test just how well the new 3-4 defense at Wisconsin is coming along. Quarterback Taylor Kelly was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country a season ago and picked up where he left off in the opener when he threw for 300 yards and five touchdowns in one half of football. He’s got more weapons than ever this fall with Jaelen Strong on the outside and Marion Grice out of the backfield, putting pressure on Wisconsin’s defense to keep up with them.
If Arizona State can defend their home turf and pull off the minor upset, they will undoubtedly earn a spot in next week’s top 25. But they won’t get to celebrate this win for long as they travel to The Farm to face the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal in Week 4 before hosting the USC Trojans and taking on the No. 21 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Dallas the week after. It is a challenging gauntlet that could be the most difficult that any team will face this season. But for Graham and the Sun Devils, that isn’t a handicap, just an opportunity.
To be the best, you have to beat the best and Arizona State has the opportunity to do that in the next month. Scoring wins over the last season’s Big Ten champion, Pac 12 champion and BCS National Title runner-up would be a huge boost to this program’s national image. If they make it through this stretch unscathed, they will kick the door off its hinges as they announce that they are a serious college football contender in 2013. Do they have the mettle to make it happen?