Know Your Foe: Arizona State

Some Bruin Report Online readers posed questions to Hod Rabino, the publisher of the ASU site, Devils Digest, about the Arizona State team, its season, personnel, program and future under Dennis Erickson...

Several people have called Vontaze Burfict a "dirty" player. What are your thoughts on that?

Here is the irony. Burfict admitted that this season he has been somewhat less aggressive with his play so he could avoid the penalties and mental mistakes that have plagued him his first two years in Tempe. Coaches have went on record saying that this lack of aggressiveness this season has hurt him. Well, last week against Colorado we got to see the "old Burfict" return, being more assertive and sure enough he leads the team in tackles that day and gets flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty (taking off his helmet).

So it's been hard for Burfict to balance lack of aggression with effectiveness, but either way I definitely wouldn't call him dirty player who hits players at the crown of the helmet or at the knees. Furthermore, I believe that one reason so many league refs were let go from last year is because they blatantly ignored players baiting Burfict and instigating fights with him, but were quick to flag the linebacker for retaliating.

With so many seniors on the ASU squad this year, where do you think that will leave next year's team, and what kind of year do you foresee?

Excellent question and one that ASU fans have been discussing for months now. In all likelihood ASU will return QB Brock Osweiler and the entire running back group, and could possibly get back RB Deantre Lewis who is redshirting due to injury. I think that puts ASU in a pretty good position offensively right from the start. There will be quite a few losses on the offensive line, but some of the underclassmen already proved that they can step in without the position as a whole having a noticeable drop-off. The wide receivers group on the other hand is going to be very interesting because four seniors will be leaving and by and large the reserves haven't seen significant playing time. Yet in my opinion, a senior quarterback can mask that deficiency to a large extent.

The defensive line and cornerbacks are actually in good shape with no losses that will be hard to overcome next year. The linebacker position will take a hit losing three seniors and possibly Burfict (to the NFL draft) and all those are players who naturally have logged in by far the most snaps of anyone in the position. On the other hand, having Brandon Magee return from a redshirt year (due to injury) could ease the pain. The safety position also takes a big hit and will have a two-deep of mainly inexperienced players.

So there is no doubt that ASU will have to plug in some holes on both sides of the ball, but at the same time I don't expect the Sun Devils to be irrelevant in 2012, because there is a good nucleus coming back. Beyond that, I look at the Pac-12 South next season and in my humble opinion I see a lot of teams with bigger issues to contend with than ASU does. And I don't see most of the Pac-12 North teams ASU will play in 2012, and that are currently struggling, being significantly better next year. So while I'm not going to predict a double-digit win season I still see ASU having a successful season next year.

Dennis Erickson started at ASU with one good season, with Dirk Koetter's players, and then followed up with three mediocre seasons, but now has had a pretty good year so far in 2011. How is he viewed by the ASU faithful? Is he loved, hated, respected, or not so much? What are their expectations on an annual basis and how do the fans account for the three losing years between the two winning ones?

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 a July afternoon jog in Phoenix. The 2008 and 2009 seasons were a complete abomination, the honeymoon was quickly over and the Erickson naysayers grew by the second. They had a bad offensive coordinator in Rich Olson and their recruiting classes were less than stellar and both contributed to ASU's shortcomings.

The 2010 season, where ASU finished 6-6 did split the Sun Devil nation as you would expect. Critics pointed to a third consecutive non-winning and bowl-less season, while some fans jumped on board again seeing the progress that was made and realizing the foundation that was being laid for 2011 (and obviously that faction was right).

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. Granted, he will have to sustain success in the years to come so the critics don't re-appear in force.

Do you think Erickson has "turned the corner" and will be able to sustain an acceptable level of success year in and year out for him to be taken off the hot seat for the foreseeable future? If he loses in 2012 is he back on the hot seat?

This kind of ties in to the answers of the previous couple of questions. I do see ASU having success in 2012 and the recruiting class as it stands so far provides a good foundation for the future. So yes, I do believe that Erickson has turned the corner and can sustain success in the upcoming years. Will a bad 2012 season put him on the hot seat? Don't think so because by then he would have signed an extension that will last probably until 2015 and ASU isn't about to buy him out for the last three years of his contract.

What do ASU fans think of their new logo/uniforms? Do you think it's benefitted ASU financially? Was there any resistance among fans and ASU administration before the change to multiple uniforms, and what's the sentiment of that faction now?

As you would expect it was an instant and rousing success. Most of the older fans weren't too enthused at first, but realize the opinion of the current players and recruits and those groups have been crazy about the new logo and uniforms since the day they came out. I think replacing Sparky with the pitchfork as the team logo will still take some time getting used to, but there is no denying that the new uniforms and all the possible uniform combinations that resulted from it (This season ASU has yet to wear the same combination more than once) have been a big hit. Bottom line is that this was a good time for a change.

There is no doubt that it has benefited ASU financially, as well as retailers all around the Metro Phoenix area. They were experiencing holiday season numbers (if not higher than that) in the normally slow spring and summer months and will probably go through the same experience all over again later this month and through Christmas.

What potential hire for a head coach at UCLA would worry ASU fans the most? Would ASU be more scared of a big-named coach at UCLA or at Arizona?

Hard question to answer without currently knowing the entire pool of candidates available. I know that any candidate with head coaching experience will grab everybody's attention, so individuals like Chris Petersen, Mike Leach and even Houston's Kevin Sumlin would move the needle, so to speak, in the conference regardless of the team that hired them. I don't know if UCLA or Arizona hiring such an individual, would concern me more than the other. Both those universities will always be known as basketball schools and I don't know whether one coaching hire or another is enough to change that perception.

Both UCLA and ASU are programs that have a lot of potential to be great. Which program do you feel has more potential to be a national power and why: UCLA or ASU?

I think that ASU has always put more emphasis on football compared to UCLA, which goes back to my previous answer about UCLA being the proverbial basketball school. With everything that is going on right now with the ASU football program, I'm very optimistic about the direction it is going in. The renovations to Sun Devil Stadium are scheduled to start by 2015 if not earlier and that will only add to the growth of the program if not positioning itself as a possible national power.

Has the ASU defense played up to expectation this season? It seems like the offense has gone beyond expectation, but the defense hasn't, and that is potentially is what's keeping ASU out of the upper tier of college football this season.

I somewhat disagree with that statement. You throw out the Oregon game, and even that was a game I don't think the defense necessarily played horribly, and the Sun Devil defense has yet to give up more than 22 points in any Pac-12 game and in a road loss at Illinois they surrendered just 17 points. They are the typical "bend but not break" group which will give up chunks of yards at times, but is leading the conference in 3rd down conversion as well turnover ratio (and are fifth best in the nation in that category). I can't really fault the defense for ASU's two losses, certainly not the Illinois' loss.

How does quarterback Brock Osweiler rank in terms of the quarterbacks in ASU's history? He's only a junior, but can you project where he might stack up by the end of his career at ASU? And would he be stupid enough to put his name in the NFL draft after this season?

Even as a junior Osweiler is fairly inexperienced, so he hasn't been able to make his mark yet on the statistical categories of ASU quarterbacks. But his potential is undeniable and not to get too ahead but next season I'm expecting him to be the best quarterback in the Pac-12 and a signal caller who will make some noise nationally.

Osweiler excels in his leadership and composure, and he has had to resort to those traits on several occasions because of the inconsistency of the offense. He has good mechanics and is deceptively mobile for a 6-8 quarterback. I think he could do better going through his progressions and avoiding throws where he tries to force the issue.

So I do think that he will end up as one of the better quarterbacks to come through ASU since the Jake Plummer days. But I don't think he would declare for the NFL draft this year and I don't believe he's even mulling over that option these days.

Dennis Erickson gets paid about $1.7 million per year, which is about 40th in the nation. Hypothetically, if Erickson had crashed and burned this season and was fired, and ASU had a chance to get a big-named coach, like Chris Petersen, would ASU be able to pay him upward of $3 to $3.5 million per year?

When the time comes for ASU to pay top-dollar market rate salary, which I think at the earliest will happen only in a few years, I feel fairly confident that they will be able to do so. The Pac-12 TV contract money obviously helps and I'm hopeful that the donations to the football program will increase as the team shows a good successful track record.

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