Sun Devil Sunday

It's strange to think that less than 24 hours following a victory over hated rival Arizona, during which ASU gained two additional recruiting commitments, the mood among Sun Devil fans is firmly bitter.

Although speculated heavily following losses by Missouri and West Virginia, as well as Saturday wins by Hawaii and USC, it was announced officially that Arizona State would not receive any invitation to a Bowl Championship Series game.

The Sun Devils have accepted a bid t0 face 2005 National Champion and No. 17 Texas in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Calif., on Dec. 27.

ASU has twice appeared in the Holiday Bowl, against Arkansas in 1985 and Kansas State in 2002, and this contest will mark the first meeting ever between the Sun Devils and the Longhorns.

The craziest college football season in recent memory takes yet another wild turn, and controversy nearly nationwide is far from over. It's unfortunate that the events of the past 24 hours outside of ASU's control has caused this to be an aggravating day; it's nearly unfathomable that one day removed from defeating Arizona, Sun Devil fans could be vocally disappointed, understandable since ASU (10-2) is ranked 11th in the final regular season BCS rankings, two spots ahead of Illinois (9-3), who was controversially chosen to face USC in the Rose Bowl.

But it is what it is. I'll save the BCS-bashing and politicking for another day, for now it's worthwhile to review a successful game and an excellent regular season for the Sun Devils.

Saturday night in front of a third consecutive packed Sun Devil Stadium, ASU downed an Arizona team which as in a similar position as they were when the two teams met in 2006, one game from its first bowl appearance since 1998. However, as was the case last season, the Devils proved too much for the ‘Cats, keeping control of the Territorial Cup and withstood a late-game rally, winning 20-17.

When taken in an objective light, the Sun Devils have greatly distanced the overall gap in the rivalry.

In comparison to its intra-league foes, ASU has fared as well against the Wildcats as any team in the Pac-10 Conference, having beaten Arizona eight times since 1996. The Sun Devils have beaten Oregon State and Washington State eight times a piece in that span as well.

The Territorial Cup has remains on campus in Tempe, where it's been hosted since 2005 and quarterback Rudy Carpenter furthers his legacy as a Kitty Killer, engineering the third win in as many tries as ASU's starting quarterback.

A back-and-forth series, the Sun Devils haven't won three straight games against the in-state rival since 1977, which came near the end of ASU's most dominant era in the rivalry, winning 13 of 14 games from 1965-78 under legendary head coach Frank Kush.

For his three-year career versus Arizona, Rudy has completed 55-of-99 passes for 701 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception. With his performance against the Wildcats, Carpenter has totaled 3,015 passing yards for the season, joining Andrew Walter as the only Sun Devils in school history to surpass 3,000 passing yards in a single season. Also, Carpenter, Jeff Van Raaphorst (1984-86), Jake Plummer (1994-96) and Walter (2002-04) are the only ASU passers to surpass 2,000 yards through the air in three consecutive seasons.

Additionally, Carpenter ranks third on ASU's all-time list in career completed passes (568), passing attempts (922), passing yards (7,814) and is two touchdown passes away from tying Plummer for second all time (65) behind record-holder Andrew Walter.

Looking back on the regular season, the prophecy was greatly fulfilled that Carpenter would play greatly improved from what was seen of him during most of the 2006 season. He'll still give fans and coaches headaches at times, but his toughness is second-to-none, and his efficiency is tremendous (149.49 rating, 15th in NCAA), while his completion percentage (63.0 pct.) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (23-8) and his leadership make him an invaluable commodity to the Sun Devils.

The overall landscape of Sun Devil football is on the rise, concluding the home schedule with three consecutive sell-outs, improved overall play and being regularly featured among the nation's most highly-ranked teams.

Strangely, the national events in college football have really soured the victory over the Sun Devils, since during the past week we've all bounced every likelyBCS bowl scenario around in our heads, and figured that if ASU won and the other teams took care of business as "expected", the maroon and gold would, at worst, be represented in Glendale at the Fiesta Bowl.

Not meant to be, apparently. It's frustrating because BCS opportunities haven't come around frequently for the Sun Devil faithful, so to have the opportunity essentially taken from us; it has understandably caused an uproar.

However, this is why head coach Dennis Erickson was brought to Tempe, to put the Sun Devils back in the national spotlight, which is still very possible despite a BCS snubbing.

Magnitude of the title or prestige of the bowl game aside, what do you think is a greater stage for the Sun Devils, playing an unusually ranked Kansas team, as many bowl projections indicated ASU would have faced in the Fiesta Bowl had things gone "according to plan" this weekend, or, would a win over the University of Texas, two years removed from a BCS National Championship and one of the most tradition-rich program in college sports, do greater deeds for the Devils, despite being in a "lesser " bowl game?

ASU will face a talented and capable Longhorn team in just under four weeks, and despite not being included in the glitz and glamour of the Bowl Championship Series, the Sun Devils are stilll in a position to make some national noise, which would do wonders in propelling the program even further up the ranks enter year two of the Erickson regime in 2008.

Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and will be a guest contributor to Devils Digest during the 2007 football season. He currently writes for ASU's Maroon and Gold Illustrated and his work has also been featured in Sun Devil football media guides and other official team publications.

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