No Sun Devil fan would call the 2003 season anything near a success. The difference of opinion between fans lies in whether or not the poor showing spells certain doom and gloom in 2004 or whether the Sun Devils can put together a solid season (of course, there is debate on the definition of a "solid season," too). One thing is for certain, no maroon and gold follower is willing to accept another season like 2003 without wholesale changes within the football program.
As his team heads up north to Camp Tontozona, Koetter is aware of this season's requirements and knows that another poor showing will certainly cause some changes with his assistant coaches and possibly even precipitate his removal as head coach. And, as if the head coach needs something else to worry about, Mike Stoops has attracted a solid group of early commits, including some of Arizona's top prospects, to Tucson while ASU hasn't landed a single verbal commitment to date.
This combination has Koetter feeling the pressure from the program's supporters, and rightfully so. For the casual (or more excitable) fans, it may appear that the entire football program is crumbling to the ground. For others, it is an important area of concern that will weigh on their minds throughout the regular and recruiting seasons. They will make their assessments of this season's successes and failures with this as part of their decision process.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. All of the pressure can be relieved with at least seven wins and no 2003 Cal or Stanford-type losses during the season. It is that simple. If the Sun Devils can reach this goal, it will be difficult for critics to make proclamations that Koetter doesn't know what he is doing or that he is extremely over-matched. There will always be those who aren't happy with what is going on, but the majority of the fan base would be placated with this level of success in 2004.
What happens if the team wins less than seven games is anybody's guess. Gene Smith has said DK will be back in 2005, but is that the ever-popular vote of confidence that coaches receive before being axed or is the AD simply stating the truth? Could Koetter keep his job by making significant changes in his staff? Hopefully we won't have to find out.
All in all, Koetter has enough talent on this team to reach (and hopefully win) a bowl game and to finish in the top half of the conference. There are no excuses for not accomplishing at least that level of success.
My guess is that it will happen and Koetter will go back to being a solid, up-and-coming coach. And with wins, recruiting successes will follow. Fans will once again have a reason to be optimistic about the future of ASU Football.
As has been discussed in mind-numbing detail by die-hard and casual fans alike, we'll know a lot more about the direction of the football program in just a few short months. So, it is time for the fans to stop debating the past and to focus on the 2004 season. The Devils head up to the pines, the players finally get into full pads, and fans have an opportunity to see this year's Sun Devil team in action. Let's play some football!
Under Pressure, Koetter Heads North
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