Arizona State has been decimated by injuries throughout the 2016 season, but following the Sun Devils' bye week at the beginning of November, many of the team's injured players have slowly nursed back to health.
On Thursday, ASU head coach Todd Graham delivered good news for two more players who have missed important time in recent weeks, as Graham said he expects senior linebacker Salamo Fiso and senior offensive lineman Stephon McCray to be available on Saturday as the Sun Devils take on the Washington Huskies.
"I expect Salamo to play, Kareem (Orr) played last week, he's fine, I think Manny (Wilkins) will be a little bit better, Stephon (McCray), we expect to have available," Graham said.
Even though ASU expects to have one of its most important defensive communicators and a veteran lineman back in the fold against Washington, Graham said the Sun Devils will be without junior wide receiver Cameron Smith, who may not play the rest of the season.
"No, I don't expect him (to play) for the rest of the year," Graham said. "A knee problem."
After a 5-1 start to the season, ASU has lost four consecutive games marking just the second time during the Graham era that the Sun Devils have endured a four-game losing streak. The last time ASU lost four straight games came in 2012, Graham's first season with the program.
In 2012, ASU snapped its four-game losing streak with a dominating victory over Washington State as the Sun Devils wound up winning their final three games of the season to finish 8-5. This year, the task of snapping the streak is considerably more difficult, as ASU must go on the road to face the No. 6 team of the country looking to rebound after dropping its first contest of the season.
"We've got our hands full going up there defensively, I think they're (Washington) probably the most explosive team in the league and I'm responsible for 100 percent of what goes on in our program and we evaluate programs at the end of the season," Graham said. "So we'll evaluate all of that stuff, I'm excited about going and playing Washington, I'm excited about going and playing the Territorial Cup and I'm excited about going and getting this team into a bowl game, and then we'll evaluate things at the end of the year."
Graham's references to evaluating the state of his program came after he was asked about the performance of his new assistant coaches to this point in the season.
After ASU finished 6-7 in 2015, Graham was forced to replace five assistant coaches who departed for other jobs including offensive coordinator Mike Norvell who left to become the head coach at Memphis.
With new faces like offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, wide receivers coach Jay Norvell and defensive backs coach T.J. Rushing heading up position groups this season, Graham said he would prefer to wait until the conclusion of the season before determining how successfully ASU managed such a large transition.
"It's not easy having five new people, but they have done a solid job of adapting and they have done a nice job of teaching so I've been pleased with that," Graham said. "Again, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that stuff right now, we're just pounding and trying to get ready and I know that's what they're doing."
Prior to the start of the season, ASU knew it would have to overcome the adversity of replacing a starting quarterback, four offensive linemen, and three starters in the secondary and that it would have to manage those circumstances with a significantly different coaching staff.
Through the first half of the season, many of the questions regarding how the Sun Devils would handle the transition subsided because ASU won five of its first six games. However, as the losses have piled up and injuries have derailed ASU's season, the challenge of finishing the season on a strong note has become increasingly difficult.
Regardless, Graham said he doesn't feel any additional stress this season compared to years past, because every season requires the same level of dedication and focus.
"I love this, I love everything about it, I love everything about college football, I love competing, I love the team, I love what we're doing, and I am an intense competitor," Graham said. "I don't ever feel that way, to me it's competition and it's competing and you're so busy preparing and busting your tail to do everything you can to prepare for the next one that you don't think about stress. There's no extra stress. It's just as stressful as when you win 10 games or 12 games or six games or whatever. Obviously you're a lot happier, but I'm very determined and focused right now on playing the best team in our league this week."