Where the Rubber Meets the Road

With a 41-9 pounding of UTEP in the books, Dirk Koetter and the 2004 Sun Devils now move on to the meat of the schedule. The next few weeks will be the defining moments of Koetter's tenure as ASU's head football coach.

All the clichés apply. It is time to put up or shut up. Now or never. Fish or cut bait. #!*% or get off the pot!

The time has come for Dirk Koetter to prove why he was hired to lead the Sun Devil football program. The next five games on ASU's schedule are tough – at Northwestern, Iowa, Oregon State, at Oregon, and at USC. Northwestern is on the road and, under Koetter, the Devils have not faired well away from Tempe. Iowa will be looking for another dominating defensive performance after limiting ASU to two points in Iowa City last season. The Beavers showed their strength by taking LSU to the wire in Baton Rouge. Oregon is always tough at Autzen. USC is defending its co-national championship.

The Sun Devils lost badly to each of these teams, except for Oregon (one of two Pac-10 victories in 2003) and Northwestern (which they didn't play), last season. With most fans expecting at least a 7-4 record in Koetter's fourth year, winning at least three of these five games is important for the fans' view of the Koetter era. Many fans are already calling for the skipper's head and the rest are taking a ‘wait and see' approach, using this season as a barometer for the direction of the football program.

Last season, the Devils looked bad against almost every quality opponent and some not-so-quality opponents. They cannot afford those mental lapses again this season. They must win some games they would not have won last season and be competitive in any losses they incur. There can be no blowouts in which the team fails to come to play. Basically, there can be no repeats of last season's Cal and Stanford games.

This weekend's trip to Evanston, IL to take on the Northwestern Wildcats will tell us a lot about the 2004 Devils. NU put up a bunch of yards and points against a TCU team that has traditionally had a strong defense. However, the Wildcats also gave up a plethora of yards and points. Andrew Walter should be licking his chops.

The bottom line is that this is the type of game ASU should win if it is building a solid program from the ground up. Northwestern went to a bowl last year, but they are not a juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination. The Devils and Dirk Koetter need to prove they can beat solid opponents on the road.

Good GPAs, rising retention rates, solid citizenship, and the rest of what Koetter has instilled here in Tempe is instinctively the "right way" to build a program for the long term; however, the team has to actually put a quality product on the field eventually. This weekend is the first opportunity to prove that it will do so.

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