Hope abounds (again) as spring commences

The Sun Devil football team begins spring practice with high expectations, veteran leaders, coaches' futures, and marketing momentum on the line. Can they deliver?

Sun Devil football fans are watching the 2011 spring football practices with anticipation and a critical eye. Three consecutive seasons without a bowl game has fractured the fan base, with a significant portion of Sun Devils skeptical that Coach Dennis Erickson and his staff is ready to turn this team into a consistent winner. Another portion sees signs of improvement and believes that the 2011 season is the start of sustained winning in Tempe.

Both of these groups are watching spring practices closely. Every incomplete pass or blown coverage will buoy one side's argument, while big hits and touchdowns will portend football nirvana for others.

But both camps have something important in common – they still care, still go to games, and still crave successful football between the buttes. Sun Devil football still has their attention.

So while this spring is important to these groups of ASU fans, it could be even more important to the fans that no longer follow Sun Devil football or have never been diehard fans in Sun Devil Stadium every Saturday night. These folks may not watch any practices or even read a recap, but the spring is important because the rebranding campaign that is going to be launched in early April will aim to bring these potential donors and fans into the mix.

An important factor in the success of the soon-to-be-launched campaign is success on the football field this fall. Nothing would derail any momentum created by an exciting announcement like another disappointing football season. Conversely, a combination of big wins from Sun Devil football and a work stoppage of the NFL could drive attention and a windfall of fans that might otherwise not pay attention to the local college football scene.

I won't go as far as saying that the future prosperity of ASU Athletics is riding on what happens on the gridiron between now and (hopefully) early January, but the stars could be aligning to provide Sun Devil football with a platform from which to launch itself much higher into the local and national consciousness. Maybe ESPN might even be able to distinguish us from the school down south!

So while ASU fans that are still paying attention will look for consistency from new starting QB Brock Osweiler, leadership from Vontaze Burfict, a pass rush from Will Sutton, and explosiveness from Deantre Lewis, many prospective Sun Devil Club donors will be looking for a reason to care. The 2011 football season can provide the excitement the casual fan seeks.

It's a heavy burden to bear, but it's time for ASU football to grasp the moment and lead the way on and off the field. It's time to start the positive momentum again. It's been too long. That positive momentum begins this upcoming week.

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