What is the atmosphere like around the ASU campus and the football program lately considering it looks like the Sun Devils would have to fall on their faces to avoid representing the south in the championship game?
HRThere is definitely buzz around campus and in the local sports scene about ASU, but it's all relative. What I mean is that compared to last year ASU is getting more exposure, but still competing hard with the NFL for the spotlight. I can only imagine how much less exposure ASU would get if there was an NBA season and/or the Diamondbacks were in the World Series. That's how it has always been in the local media covering ASU. And I can't say that attendance has been as high as it probably should be for a team that has pretty much been in the Top 25 all season long.
I feel that the team itself has confidence but no cockiness, and has the right amount of swagger. Like you said, they know that they are in the driver's seat of the Pac-12 South race and with three out of the next five games at home and all five contests being very winnable it's probably easier said than done to not look ahead at the Pac-12 championship game. The Sun Devils say that they are taking it one game at a time and they're not overlooking Colorado. Saturday will validate that sentiment or contradict it.
Is there a sense that with USC being on probation with the NCAA the Sun Devils need to make the most of that before the Trojans regain postseason eligibility and start to regain scholarships in the coming years?
HR: To some extent yes. Don't forget that once the post-season probation ends the scholarship reductions begin for the next three years and that in theory could keep USC down, relatively speaking. Some will say that ASU can now stand toe to toe with USC even after their sanctions will be over so time will tell if that will happen.
All bias aside, compared to the rest of the Pac-12 South ASU is poised to have a brighter future in the next two, three years because at least on paper, all the other teams in the division will have much bigger issues to deal with than ASU. So in my opinion ASU needs not only to take advantage of USC's situation, but also capitalize on what is going on with the rest of the division.
CU fans are well aware of the big-name players on the ASU roster. Is there a guy or two you see making a lot of plays this season, who maybe isn't getting the recognition he deserves?
In my opinion, it's definitely linebacker Colin Parker. Obviously, when it comes to that position outsiders will always begin and end the discussion with pre-season All-American Vontaze Burfict. However, truth of the matter is that Parker has been steadier with his play, leads the team in tackles and is already considered the best linebacker on the team this season. Parker is your typical blue collar player who will never blow you away with his speed or strength but his football IQ more than compensates for that.
Does ASU have any key injuries that could impact Saturday's game?
The Sun Devils have been hit hard by injuries starting in spring practice and all throughout the season, but right now they are in the best shape they have been in a while. Tight end Trevor Kohl is the only player who played two weeks ago and is questionable for this week. There was some talk that offensive tackle Evan Finkenberg may return for the Colorado game after undergoing meniscus surgery, but he's at least a week away.
Denver Mullen's Junior Onyeali returns to his defensive end spot after also undergoing meniscus surgery and missing the last four games and players such as Parker and running back Cameron Marshall were able to heal nagging injuries during the bye week.
What is coach Dennis Erickson like to deal with from a media perspective? Is he well-liked in the community and among ASU alums?
From a media perspective he is easy to deal with but following former ASU Head Coach Dirk Koetter who loathed the media, it has been easy for Erickson to shine. I do feel that Erickson at times is very honest, but often in his statements will be quick to "fall on the sword" for a player or an assistant coach who isn't performing up to standard.
As far as the fan base and its feelings about Erickson it has certainly been a roller coaster. In his first year he led the Sun Devils to a 10-3 record so criticizing him back then made as much sense as taking an afternoon jog in July around Phoenix. The 2008 and 2009 seasons were a complete abomination and the honeymoon was quickly over and the naysayers grew by the second. The 2010 season, where ASU finished 6-6 did split the fans base as you would expect. Critics pointed to a third consecutive non-winning and bowless season, while some fans jumped on board again seeing the progress that was made and realizing the foundation that was being laid for 2011.
This season it's obviously hard to really complain about Erickson's performance with the team playing up to expectations and poised to win the Pac-12 South. Once the Sun Devils do wrap up the division title it won't be too long until Erickson gets a contract extension validating that this program is indeed moving in the right direction.
The Sun Devils came up short against Oregon two weeks ago. Is there realistic hope that they can actually win the Pac-12 championship if they get there against Oregon or Stanford? Why should outsiders believe in them?
Excellent question. Barring a miracle, ASU will play on the road against the eventual Pac-12 North champion. The Sun Devils aren't shy about wanting a rematch with Oregon, even if they have to travel to Eugene again to do so. But I think they should be careful what they wish for, especially if they face an Oregon team with a healthy Darron Thomas and LaMichael James, which wasn't the case two weeks ago.
The Ducks however would be a better match-up because Stanford's physicality seems near impossible for any Pac-12 team, ASU included, to counter. Playing in Palo Alto would undoubtedly be less intimidating but facing Andrew Luck and that Cardinal offense is hardly something you look forward to.
I know as it stands now outsiders and college football experts will all pick against ASU in the Pac-12 championship game, and you would be hard pressed to claim bias in that case. The way I look at, if ASU can finish the regular season 10-2 and truly have five very convincing wins in the process, I think the overall perception of the Sun Devils, to some extent, could change.
What is the perception of ASU fans and those inside the program of Colorado, not just right now but in terms of the Buffs ability to compete in this league over the long haul?
I think the knowledgeable ASU fans knew that Colorado was going to take its lumps this season with a first-year coach and a program being in rebuilding mode, and that the next couple of years will probably be more of the same. I give credit to the Colorado coaches and players being more realistic about their 2011 prospects than other division teams, such as Utah.
At the same time, and I've been saying since the summer, that it would be foolish to sleep on this Buffaloes program. It has tradition, good location, facilities and fan support and I have been impressed with their recruiting. Give them a few years to straighten everything out and conference foes will quickly stop being automatic two or three touchdown favorites. I know in comparison to a lot of teams, Colorado will be in better shape in the long run and will make its presence known in the Pac-12.
Finally, for those CU fans making the trip to Tempe this weekend is there a can't miss part of the game day experience at ASU that they should make sure to see?
For obvious reasons I'm sure that they will avoid all the Homecoming festivities taking place this weekend…and I can't say there is much pageantry, etc. going on game day that I would classify as a can't miss.
But I would recommend taking in Mill Avenue which is a short walk west of the stadium and has a wide selection of restaurants and bars. Four Peaks is a great brewery and a Tempe landmark, located southeast of the stadium and worth the little extra walk there.