Perspective Needed in Evaluating 07 Season

As I spent last Saturday up at 8 a.m. shopping at Kohl's with my girlfriend (a greatly different pastime than I had enjoyed at that time and day for the previous three months), I was fed a horse pill dose of reality that the college football season was finished.

Sometimes it's all about perspective.

Sometimes it's necessary just to take a step back and evaluate situations in a logical fashion, not purely based on emotion.

After the Sun Devils' ugly defeat (not Illinois ugly, but far from anything you'd take to the prom) at the hands of Texas at the Holiday Bowl last week, many of the maroon and gold faithful have become greatly restless, and when all factors are considered, that's an unreasonable reaction.

With the message boards blazing with demands to treat certain Sun Devil players as though they were performing witchcraft in colonial New England, an uninformed bystander would have no clue that this team had complied one of the finest regular season records in school history.

In 95 seasons of varsity football at Arizona State University, which began in 1897, the Sun Devils have recorded 11 seasons with 10 or more victories, and prior to 2007 had done so only three times since entering the Pacific-10 Conference in 1978.

Additionally, in terms of first-year coaches at ASU, since World War II, only Dan Devine in 1955 (8-2-1 record from 5-5 in 1954) and John Cooper in 1985 (8-4 record from 5-6 in 1984) created as much improvement as did Dennis Erickson (10-3 record from 7-6 in 2006) in his debut season in Tempe.

Furthermore, Erickson is the only head coach in ASU history to win 10 or more games in his first season on campus while leading the Devils to a split of the Pac-10 Conference Championship and earning an unprecedented third career Pac-10 Coach of the Year Award.

Those are the things that legends are made of, and please be advised that legends are not created in one year alone.

Arguments rage that the Sun Devils followed a trend of winning games that they were favored to and losing those that they weren't; but different from seasons past, the list of teams ASU "shouldn't" have beaten was limited to teams which were arguably among the nation's very elite.

The challenge of this off-season will be for the coaches and players to prepare to join the list of the elite. The 2008 schedule, including two teams featured this season in BCS bowl games and an ever-improving list of Pac-10 foes, will draw the line in the sand for the Sun Devil football program to earn a place at the table with the best in the business.

What's greatly reassuring is that the improvement was gained with predominately the same roster that was on the field for the Sun Devils in 2006, as only seven players in their first year with the program saw action in 2007 (cornerback Omar Bolden, defensive tackle Jonathan English, wide receiver Kerry Taylor, defensive lineman Paul ‘Unga, defensive end Luis Vasquez, running back Jarrell Woods and linebacker Morris Wooten), while only Bolden, Vasquez and Wooten were consistently featured in the starting line-up.

To put things in perspective (there's that word again), ASU also featured three brand-new starters in 2006 (running back Ryan Torain and cornerback Justin Tryon were routine starters, while defenders Travis Goethel, Ryan McFoy and Mike Nixon split starting nods), but managed a season barely scratching out a winning record.

Long story short, the vast majority of the key players who were on the field to conclude the 2006 season in the Hawaii Bowl returned when the Devils faced San Jose State on Sept. 1 to kickoff the 2007 campaign, but that was perhaps the only similarity between the two ASU squads.

The differences? There were many, but nearly all are attributed to the elements Dennis Erickson, his staff and their philosophies bring to the table.

Passion, pride and resilience returned to Tempe and those factors turned into improvements on the scoreboard and in the stands of Sun Devil Stadium as the maroon and gold won more games than any ASU team since 1996 and fans gathered for three consecutive sell-outs to conclude the home schedule, the first time that feat had been accomplished in nearly 20 years.

However, in the world of "what have you done for me lately?", often times success breeds greed.

Do I intend to imply that Sun Devil supporters should accept being largely out-played in the two most significant and widely-viewed games of the season?

Of course not, but it would be very unfortunate and even debilitating to the ongoing progress of the program for fans to allow a forgettable postseason effort to tarnish an otherwise memorable season.

Outside of a disappointing Holiday Bowl performance, three of the major phases of college football (wins and losses, attendance and recruiting) have seen tremendous advancements during the first full calendar year of the Erickson Era at ASU.

ASU's record improved by three wins from the previous season, average home attendance leapt from 54,562 in 2006 to 62,875 this season and ASU's current recruiting commitment list ranks 21st in the nation by Scout.com (with a handful of elite prospects still greatly considering ASU), while the average national ranking for former coach Dirk Koetter's five full signing classes at ASU from 2002-06 was just outside of the nation's top 30.

This is not the pinnacle of the mountain, it's the base.

This is not the sixth or seventh mediocre year of a coach with a five-year plan, it's a college football legend that has proven to have the Midas touch and immediately exhibited it in the land of maroon and gold.

This is just the beginning, and a 10 win season is a hell of a way to start.

Happy New Year, Sun Devil fans, and raise a glass to the home team.

Above all else, don't stop believin', Tempe…we ain't seen nothin' yet.

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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