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Opportunity Knocks

<I>The 2004 Sun Devils have surpassed most of their fans' expectations already this year. Coming off a dismal 5-7 season, the team has completely bought into the desire to "answer the scratch," which has led to an undefeated record going into Saturday's game against the #1 USC Trojans in L.A. The question about this ASU squad is no longer whether they can get to a bowl, but whether or not this team can reach BCS heights.</I>

So far this season, the Devils have "answered the scratch" and busted through every impending road block -- a tough road game in a Big 10 venue that started at 9am Arizona time, a visit from an Iowa team that completely dominated them the year prior, the best secondary in the Pac 10 from OSU, and a raucous and loud Autzen stadium under the lights in Eugene.

Now, coming off a bye week in which the Devils could rest their bodies, get healthy, and put in a little extra preparation for the Trojans, ASU faces its biggest test so far. Honestly, just looking at the match-ups on paper, the outlook for the Sun Devils is not very good. ASU has not run the ball that well this year and one-dimensional teams can easily end up on the wrong side of a blowout against USC. Additionally, ASU has been out-gained in total yardage in its last two games.

However, stats on paper do not evidence a team's heart and desire. The 2004 Sun Devils have complete reversal in both of those categories over last year's team. This team is hungry. A team that was called "soft" and "finesse" all off-season now enjoys being physical and beating their opponents up. The running game has improved and the coaches look to be more comfortable letting it develop, even after a few stuffed runs early in a game. Basically, the team has decided to be a nasty, tough, and physical team and is benefiting from that decision with five W's and zero L's.

Still, despite all of the heart and desire, ASU must play its best game of the season if they want to have a chance to upset the #1 team in the country on their home turf. The Trojans are three deep at just about every position with high school All-Americans. And the reason USC has returned to dominance is that Pete Carroll and Norm Chow are probably the best coaches in the conference and know how to utilize all of that recruited talent.

The bad news is that ASU is also talented, but not at the same level as the Trojans. The good news is that this year's Sun Devils have not beat themselves and have been very good at capitalizing on opponents' mistakes. That needs to continue if ASU wants to knock off the defending co-national champions.

The Devils will wake up on Saturday morning in their L.A. hotel rooms. About the time they leave their rooms to board the buses for the Coliseum, they will all – players and coaches alike – hear a knock at the door. It will be opportunity calling. It will be there for the taking. Should the Devils grasp this opportunity, ASU will receive national recognition for their achievements, even more talented recruits will take notice, and the hometown fan base will be energized.

I don't know if the Devils are capable of beating USC this weekend. It is a very daunting task. But I do know that this version of the Sun Devils is more ready to grasp opportunity than any team since the Jake Plummer-led Rose Bowl team of 1996. Last year, it seemed like the team was allergic to opportunity. This year, they have shown a desire to grasp it that exceeds anything ASU fans have seen in a long time.

Carpe Diem, fellas.

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