In just his second year in Tempe, Todd Graham has led the Arizona State Sun Devils to a Pac-12 South Division title and a home-game for the Pac-12 Championship against the Stanford Cardinal with a berth to the Rose Bowl on the line. This is the goal that he set out for this season with ASU but not many gave him any real chance of accomplishing it. But ASU is here as a real threat to the supremacy of the Pac-12 North thanks in no small part to the discipline that Todd Graham has instilled in this program.
Before Graham became the head coach at Arizona State, the Sun Devils finished the 2011 season that finished just 6-7 after starting the year 6-2. Their tailspin was aided by the team ranking last in the country in penalty yards per game. It ultimately cost Dennis Erickson his job, opening the door for Graham to bolt to the desert to take over a program bursting with potential. In year one, the team improved to 8-5 and ranked No. 8 in the nation for fewest penalty yards. This year, at 10-2, ASU ranks No. 3.
Graham says the difference in this program has come in getting the players invested in taking over the leadership of the team rather than the coaches. It has paid huge dividends and not just on the field of play. For years, Arizona State had earned a reputation for players getting into trouble with the law in their downtime. Graham’s team has mostly avoided the local authorities and have excelled in the classroom. ASU put nine players on the Pac-12 All-Academic team this season, their highest number of honorees since 2006.
But the most tangible difference in this team will be put on display on Saturday when Sun Devil Stadium is decked out in Pac-12 Championship banners. Graham has awoken the sleeping giant that is Sun Devil football and has them on the verge of punching their ticket to the Rose Bowl this January thanks a new-found focus and discipline that permeates the entire program. Can they finish off their strong run with a BCS bid?