Devils begin bowl game preparations

After a couple of weeks off, the Sun Devil football team returned to practice Saturday morning at the Kajikawa practice field in preparation of their upcoming bowl game against Boise State. Despite constant speculation regarding the ongoing coaching search to replace Dennis Erickson, the team looks to find its focus in hopes of ending the season the right way.

The Sun Devils, who practiced lightly in shorts and shells as they worked the rust off, appeared loose and eager to be back on the football field Saturday.

"It was good to be back, we had a lot of fun today," said quarterback Brock Osweiler following practice. "Great energy, great enthusiasm. I thought the offense executed very well. The one on one's were very competitive with the wideouts and the DB's, so it was a good day."

"These two weeks that we had off were very refreshing and something we needed," he added. "But everybody came back today energized and excited to be here and we had a great practice."

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The Sun Devils, who finished with the regular season with four consecutive losses, costing them a chance to play in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game, will square off with Boise State, who was a missed last second field goal from possibly playing in the national championship game, in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 22nd.

It's an intriguing matchup for the Sun Devils, given their disappointing finish to the season, to be paired up with one of the nations' best teams, in the 7th ranked Broncos.

"They're the number seven team in the country, you can't ask for anything better than that," remarked Head Coach Dennis Erickson Saturday. "It's exciting for our players to have that opportunity to play a great team like that. It's a great program, they have a great quarterback, they've got it all. Our guys are excited about playing them, so we'll see what happens."

While not a common foe for the Sun Devils, Boise State is a team that Erickson says he's quite familiar with and looking forward to squaring off with. The Broncos, whose recent success includes a couple trips to the Valley's own Fiesta Bowl in recent years, are a formidable opponent that have earned the respect of not only Erickson, but the entire nation as they continue to rise to prominence.

"You know I've watched that program from afar for a long time, since Dirk (Koetter) was there, to Hawk and now (Chris) Peterson," Erickson commented. "They don't worry, in terms of recruiting, about a lot of things, they just get the guys that fit into what they want to do and they believe in what they do.

"The last four years they've had one of the best quarterbacks in the country and that helps, but the other thing about them is they've got a great defense. They've got a lot of guys who can run around. Their front four is extremely good. The just play well together."

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Osweiler, who will be returning to the Sun Devils next year, believes that this gives the team, not only a chance to play in a bowl game, something most of the players haven't experienced yet, but also a chance to set the tone for next year.

"I think it's very important, not only for Coach Erickson but for this football team," he said." A win against a team like Boise State can definitely propel you through the offseason and get you ready for next fall."

Erickson, who will be coaching his last game for the Sun Devils in Las Vegas, admitted that with the rumors involving the football program over the past couple of weeks, it may be hard to gauge what kind of performance fans can expect from the team, but so far he's impressed by what he has seen.

"I don't know if you know until we play," he said about the team's attitude. "It's not the easiest situation for everyone involved, mainly our players, and that's really all I care about. It's a great opportunity for them, going to a bowl game, and a great opportunity for them to play against a great football team."

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While Athletic Director Lisa Love and others continue to review candidates for the coaching position, Osweiler, who says that he has been following the process but chooses to be as uninvolved as possible, has made it known that he hopes certain members of the staff are retained, including Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone.

"I've had conversations with Lisa (Love), along with some of the other juniors," he confessed. "There were nine of us who went in and visited with her. Obviously I would like it for Coach Mazzone to stay here. I'm the first one to admit that I would not be where I'm at today without him. He's a tremendous quarterback coach. He's a great guy and I'd love for him to be here next year."

"I'm trying to stay out of it," he continued. "Whoever ASU hires I'm going to trust that's the best coach for the job. I'm going to believe in that coach and I'm just going to stay out of it and let the professionals do their job."

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Despite everything that's transpired over the past six weeks, from the losses to the firing of Erickson and the agonizing replacement process for the coaching vacancy, Erickson insists these next couple of weeks are all about the players on this Sun Devil team. It's one last chance for the team, who showed such great potential at one point of the season, to put the finishing touches on a season that has had many unfulfilled hopes.

"This is about this football team and the guys on this football team," he said. "Obviously we didn't finish like we wanted to finish. We had a lot of opportunities, we just didn't do it for a lot of different reasons, although I'm not sure I have the answers for many of them. But it's an opportunity for them to play one of the best teams in the country and finish it off right and go out and compete and see what we're about, that's the fun part.

"We want to finish the season off right and play well and play with a lot of pride," he continued. "Heck this is the first day and we have a lot of practices left, but I like how they came out. They believe in each other and we have one more shot so we'll see what happens."

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Another ongoing issue involving the Sun Devil football team has been the declining play of linebacker Vontaze Burfict and his commitment to the team. In the Sun Devils' last game against California, Burfict was benched for his out of control play and personal fouls. Rumors surface that he refused to re-enter the game after the benching, but Erickson insists that wasn't the case.

"There's no truth to any of that," said the coach. "It's amazing the rumors that are created in your business. But he's here and we'll see how he practices, if he practices hard then he'll play."

Burfict, who was relegated to second team defense on Saturday, has not been suspended by the team, according to Erickson, and for now is expected to be with the Sun Devils when they get set to face Boise State.


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