Season of Opportunity

When Dennis Erickson was hired last December, there was guarded optimism in Sun Devil Nation. We knew about Erickson's track record in college football and the two national championships at Miami. We also knew he was a turnaround specialist, with his most recent work of art coming at Oregon State, where he led the Beavers from Pac-10 doormat to Fiesta Bowl champion.

We also knew about his miserable record coaching in the NFL at Seattle and San Francisco. But still, Sun Devil fans grew weary of Dirk Koetter and a change was needed. Enter Erickson with a seasoned coaching staff and a good dose of optimism.

Erickson knew what he had in Tempe … the so-called sleeping giant with a cupboard that was fairly well stocked. Sure, there were some holes, especially on the defensive line, but with an extremely favorable schedule, including eight home games, ASU's prognosis looked pretty good going into the 2007 season.

Now seven weeks into the season, and with the Sun Devils taking a bye this week, we can reflect on the first part of the season. And it couldn't have gone any smoother.

Sure the first part of the schedule was somewhat soft, but ASU took care of business. Suddenly, what was supposed to a very good season has the potential to turn into so much more. The fact of the matter is, ASU controls its own destiny, as the old sports cliché goes.

At 7-0, the Sun Devils find themselves breathing the rarefied air of the Ohio States, LSUs, and West Virginias of the world. A foray into the BCS top-10 just keeps getting better and better. With losses to South Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina this weekend, ASU is sitting at no. 4 in the BCS standings.

So what does all that mean? Surely, we can't expect ASU to run the table, finish undefeated and play in the national championship game. But we can certainly dream at this point.

If ever there was a season to shoot for the stars, it's 2007. Not since 1996 has ASU been in such a favorable position to not only reach a BCS game. A trip to the Rose Bowl would be amazing. Even a trip to the Holiday Bowl would be a nice prize in Erickon's first season.

But let's take a look at ASU's situation. The mighty USC is showing cracks in the armor, and not even a thrashing of Notre Dame this week could erase the lackluster performances against Stanford and Arizona.

Cal has now lost two straight to UCLA and Oregon State, two teams many people thought they would beat. Suddenly the Golden Bears are coming back to the Pack (no pun intended).

Oregon is looking very strong at 6-1, but with tough games against USC, Arizona State, UCLA and intra-state rival Oregon State, there is still a chance the Ducks may lose one or two more games.

Which brings us back to ASU and how they control their own destiny. Cal and USC are both beatable, and fortunately both those are homes games. Oregon and UCLA will be tough contests on the road, and you never know how Arizona will respond in a game – especially if they can play spoiler to ASU.

Of course, the coaching staff will tell you that you have to take "one game at a time." And this next one – Cal – is a big one.

But ASU has never been in a better position to really make some noise on the national scene. And not even the most optimistic of ASU fans could have predicted this.

The only speed bump through the first seven games was the shaky play of the offensive line (which will hopefully get better as the season progresses) and the season-ending injury to tailback Ryan Torain. But all is not doom and gloom for the Sun Devils. Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance could start for many major college programs and will handle the responsibility well. ASU will miss the bruising, between-the-tackles style of Torain, but Herring and Nance are a nice fit in Erickson's spread offense. And as last week proved, both runners have big-play ability.

And if ASU is to beat Cal, they can't get into a shootout. They have to establish a strong running game and take some pressure off Rudy Carpenter. UCLA's Kahlil Bell (142 yards) and Oregon State's Yvenson Bernard (110 yards) proved that you can run on Cal's defense.

With the first true test, we'll see on October 27th just how good this ASU team is. And whether or not this is really a "season of opportunity."

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