Let's just get this out of the way first: ASU has not handled expectations well, as illustrated by the 1998 and 2003 seasons. In both of those years, the Devils came off successful seasons that showed the promise of a solid program being built. Expectations were high for those seasons; however, the Devils fell flat both times, fielding porous defenses that led to five win seasons. Those teams seemed to read the press clippings and believe they were better than they really were.
So excuse me if I am a little nervous about the expectations that are now being applied to the 2004 season after a perfect (3-0) start. In my time as an ASU fan, expectations have usually been left unfulfilled.
There is now talk of going into USC undefeated, whether ESPN's College Game Day would broadcast from USC if it happens, how ASU might be able to reach the Rose Bowl from second place in the conference, and one big UofA fan in Tucson has even mentioned ASU playing for the national championship in the Orange Bowl!
No offense intended to everyone talking about this stuff, but have you watched the Sun Devils for the past six or so seasons? They haven't exactly been the model of resiliency when things don't go their way, which is required for any team to have a "magical" season.
Now don't get me wrong, I very much agree that the 2004 version of the Sun Devils looks much improved in the "mental fragility" category. They look like they are approaching each game in the right manner and that they are taking the motto, "answer the scratch," to heart. I really like what I've seen so far.
However, you'll have to pardon me for going back to my Missouri roots and wanting the team to "show me" that their focus will be sustained. I've bought into expectations too often and been let down.
This weekend is the biggest test of ASU's mental preparation so far this season. Everything is set up for the "typical" ASU let down: they are coming off a big win in an emotional game, they are getting positive publicity both locally and nationally, and there is all this talk about what may happen in the future instead of what needs to happen this weekend. This situation is where the ASU teams of the last six years have laid big time eggs.
My gut feeling is that this team is different. I love the leadership training and focus that the team went through in the off-season. I think Coach Koetter and his staff did a great job of identifying and addressing this issue, which plagued this team in 2003. I also like the intensity that the defense brings. Their hitting and overall attitude is infectious.
It's time for the Sun Devils to prove that they can continue the focus and intensity of the three games. ASU fans, alumni, and the entire Phoenix community are starved for a winner and ASU has the opportunity to fill that void. Winning this weekend's game against Oregon State is crucial to the team's hopes for making a quality bowl game.
Additionally, all the talk of BCS bowls and a big undefeated match up against USC means a loss this weekend will be a major let down for many casual fans. These fans want to jump on the ASU bandwagon but would view a loss as another example of a Phoenix team being a tease.
The opportunity to become Phoenix's sports darling is ripe for the taking. The Devils need to prove this weekend that they are not a tease, but a team that will grasp opportunities when they are presented.
I hope my gut feeling is right and it's not just gas from drinking too much ASU Kool-Aid.
Uh Oh, Here Come The Expectations
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