Friday, December 19, 2008

We've Been Stiffarmed So Far

Granted, it's only been two days since my pursuit of information began, but all things considered, I feel kind of like Reggie Torbor in that picture.

Marshawn Lynch, on the other hand, would be Louisiana-Monroe AD Bobby Staub.

Earlier this week, we brought you analysis on the Warhawks releasing their 2009 football schedule, the one that included a curious September 19 game against Arizona State in Tempe.

It's now even on their 2009 schedule page. On a side note, that's a hell of a NC schedule with trips to Austin and Lexington in addition to this game in Tempe.

On the other hand, the Future Schedules page on the ASU website still lists September 19 as an open date.

Earlier this week, on a journalistic and curious quest for honest information, I sent Mr. Staub an e-mail to the address that's listed under the ULM athletic staff directory.

To the time of this post, I've been given the cyber Heisman. No contact, no e-mail back, not even a shred of a response.

I understand of Mr. Staub is busy; what athletic director isn't?; but I really haven't asked him for a whole lot of his time. I only asked him to address four questions in his e-mail, to the effect of...

1) Is it set in stone that ULM will be playing ASU on September 19?
2) Did ULM approach ASU for the game or vice versa?
3) What makes ASU an attractive opponent for the Warhawks?
4) Do you think ULM fans will travel to Tempe for the game?

And all things considered, the first two questions can be answered with one word each, or two if he chose to go with "No comment." Wouldn't have even minded that.

Probably would have even preferred the interactive Punch In The Face e-mail that Peter Griffin got from Carter Pewterschmidt in an old episode of Family Guy (and if anyone can find that cilip, e-mail it to, because I just wasted 10 minutes trying to find it myself).

Either way, I'd still love to get Bobby's answers to my questions on the mere fact that I'd just like to know who our Devils are actually playing, especially because the official line from the football program is that they "can't deny" there are talks about schedule alterations going on.

By the way, good point from Dan Zeiger of the Tribune, pointing out that the idea that the ASU/BYU game was to be played at University of Phoenix Stadium is a total farce considering the acrimonious relationship the teams shared when they both played at Sun Devil Stadium.

Which leads to a total side note about my favorite exchange between a security guard and a normal person, which took place right after ASU beat Iowa in 2004:

Security Guard: Hey! Get off the goalposts!
My Buddy: Why?
Security Guard: The Cardinals are playing here tomorrow!

My Buddy: They don't need them!

(exit flashback)

The story takes a more sensible turn if BYU comes to an agreement with Oklahoma to play next year in Dallas. If this all comes back to the Cougars wanting to reschedule the game aganist ASU because they found themselves a better opponent, then more power to Brigham Young.

Regardless, it's still curious that Louisiana-Monroe would come out with this kind of info before an opponent confirms it or at least coincidentally releases it, especially if the BYU/Oklahoma game is not yet scheduled in stone.

Either way, stay tuned. To keep you entertained in the meantime, you can read up on ULM here. Fun fact: they have a kick-ass water skiing program!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

ASU on the MMA scene

No sport is experiencing the rapid growth that the world of Mixed Martial Arts is currently enjoying. With each UFC promotion drawing more viewers than the last, the sport is a bonafide global phenomenan. Recently, Arizona State has seen its ties with the sport take on a national spotlight.

On Dec. 13, former ASU All-American wrestler Ryan "Darth" Bader became the latest winner of Spike TV's "The Ultimate Fighter 8." Bader's light-heavyweight title on the show has earned him a six-figure contract with the UFC, MMA's top-notch promotion.

Bader, who wrestled for the Sun Devils from 2003-2006 and won three Pac-10 titles, was the second straight ASU alum to appear in the finals of TUF. His roommate, former ASU wrestler CB Dolloway was the runner-up on the TUF 7. He was dominating eventual winner Amir Sadollah in the championship match until he got careless and Sadollah submitted him with an arm bar.

Despite the loss, UFC head honcho Dana White gave Dolloway a shot in the octagon. "The Doberman" made the most of it on July 19, when he defeated Jesse Taylor (who would have been in the finals of TUF 7 if not for a drunken romp through Vegas got him kicked off the show) with his go-to-move, the peruvian necktie. It was the first time in UFC history that the move had been succesful in a submission.

Bader needed only his fists to claim the crown last Saturday. A first round haymaker to the head of Vinicius Magalhaes earned him the belt and the big payday.

On his website, Bader says the allure of MMA fighting always surrounded the ASU wrestling team.

"After joining the ASU Wrestling team, I met some of the friends that would lead me into my MMA career. It seems like during my 4 years at ASU, MMA began to gain popularity and a lot of guys that I competed with and against are now in, or are entering MMA. Guys like Johnny Hendricks, Shane Roller, Jake Rosholt, and Josh Koscheck are competing now, not to mention my ASU teammates and coaches, such as CB Dollaway, Aaron Simpson, Jesse Forbes, Cain Velasquez and Kellan Fluckiger. At ASU, we were all fans of MMA and a lot of the guys above helped Jesse Forbes (TUF 3) prepare for his fight against Matt Hamill."

Bader and Dolloway both train at Arizona Combat sports in Tempe, an MMA training center notrious for producing some of the sports best up and coming strikers.

A lot of people shy away from promoting this sport, noting that it is too violent. But I think ASU should laud the accomplishments of its athletes. MMA is a sport of dedication and intensity, and while it often carries a certain stigma around of the sport being a bloody, testoerone-driven free-for-all, the accomplishments the former Sun Devils are acheiving in the sport are a result of an incredible amount of hard work and athletic talent. Something I can show a lot of love for.
Photo courtesy of

Jeff Metcalfe is on the Brock Osweiler bandwagon

Looks like PFN isn't the only one who thinks 6'8" teen-beast Brock Osweiler could be the early frontrunner to be the next starting quarterback at ASU.

On his blog today, Arizona Republic beat writer Jeff Metcalfe joined me in saying that it wouldn't be a shock to see Brock as a strong candidate for the job coming out of Spring Practice.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There's a schedule controversy a-brewin...

According to a press release put out yesterday by FBS Sun Belt powerhouse...*pauses for laughter*...Louisiana-Monroe, the Warhawks have announced their 2009 schedule and are very excited about it.

Apparently, in such release, they're proud to announce their September 19 visit to Tempe, AZ to face the Arizona State Sun Devils.

As an ambassador for Sun Devil fans everywhere, let me be the first to extend a welcoming hand to our visitors from...

*shuffles papers*


Louisiana-Monroe? Coming here? September 19?


For the past three years, the Devils 2009 non-conference schedule has been listed as Idaho State at home on September 5, Brigham Young at home on September 12 and Georgia in Athens on September 26. September 19 is a open date.

By my math, adding a game against ULM would give the Devils 13 games. That's only allowed for FBS teams if they make a trip to Hawai'i.

So, as I read this information put out so eloquently by Dan Zeiger in the East Valley Tribune, it's became pretty obvious to me that the Devils are trying to dumb down their 2009 schedule in the aftermath of a disastrous 5-7 season and in the face of the possibility of finishing sub-.500 again next year.

“At this time, I can’t deny that there have been discussions concerning schedule alterations,” said associate athletic director Mark Brand told the Tribune. “I cannot divulge any details because nothing has been confirmed yet.”

I'm all about winning games and boosting our win-loss record so our Devils can have an outside shot at the Poinsettia Bowl next season. However, if it's at the expense of dropping high-quality opponents off our schedule, which leads to the loss of experience for our younger players in playing against our nation's best teams, less national attention being paid to the program and *GASP* possibly not being on television, this isn't worth it.

Don't forget that this kind of dumbing down already happened TO the Sun Devils. Last offseason, Hal Mumme and New Mexico State paid ASU a six-digit sum to get out of their trip to Tempe. ASU replaced the Aggies with Northern Arizona for their season opener. How'd that work out for Mumme? Well, last I checked, the Aggies still sucked and Hal is out of a job right now.

I feel like you can't cancel this BYU game because of it's ties to the Valley. The overtones of Max Hall returning to Arizona State after transfering out years ago is a tremendous storyline; beyond that, the Cougars have an enormous following in the East Valley and I'd be willing to guess that at least 55,000 to 60,000 would file into Sun Devil Stadium for a game that would still most likely be a rout.

However, we might be out of luck with BYU anyway because they're reportedly trying to work out a home and home with Oklahoma, and if that were to happen, we'd probably be first on their chopping block.

On a complete side note, if you read a statement from Brigham Young (thanks for finding it, Dan Zeiger), you'll notice a curious statement that our game against them was scheduled to be a "neutral site" matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. That's the first I've heard of that.

And how could you beg out of the trip to Georgia? First off, we already played the first half of this home and home. To cancel it after playing OUR home game would be cowardly and disrespectful. Begging out of this game would most likely cost a comparable amount to what we got from NMSU to call off that game, making that situation a wash.

Plus, how many times do us West Coast teams and their fans get to travel down and take in a game at an SEC stadium? Georgia didn't make it out here for 40 years and this would be Arizona State's first trip to a legitimately intimidating away stadium since 2002 (at Nebraska) and first trip to the Eastern Time Zone to play a good team (sorry, 2003 North Carolina) since going to Miami in 1997. That's the kind of experience where you never know when it will present itself again.

In effect, I'm lobbying the Devils to not be New Mexico State and wimp out of a game against a good team just because we might not be at our strongest. If you think the reputation of the program took a shot after dropping out of the rankings and out of national minds like a lead balloon this year, it wont get better by going up against Louisiana-Monroe.

Get YOUR Tickets for Saturday from PFN and Fanster

The Stadium Shootout, matching Louisville with Minnesota and our Sun Devils with the BYU Cougars, is coming up this Saturday afternoon.

There's really no excuse to not go to these great games, especially since the vast majority of you all took last Sunday off as less than 1,000 Devils fans showed up to the game against IUPUI.

As if it were more incentive, we've teamed up with our friends at Fanster to give you a pair of primo seats to the doubleheader.

All you have to do is click HERE and leave a comment to the effect of "I Want Free Tickets!"

That's it. Really. Just go to the site and type in four short words and you could find yourself with ducats to the Stadium Shootout. It's pretty much the easiest contest in the history of contests.

Did I mention that you should click HERE to enter to win?

Hagan signs with New York Football Giants

From the Star-Ledger, it looks like the Giants have added another "weapon" at wide receiver:

Well, their team added another potential weapon today. The Giants have signed former Dolphins wide receiver Derek Hagan, according to someone familiar with Hagan's signing who requested anonymity because the team hasn't announced the move yet.

Hagan, the Dolphins' third-round pick in 2006, worked out for the Giants last week. The 24-year-old, who had 53 catches for 645 yards and three touchdowns in three seasons with Miami, had been a free agent since the Dolphins cut him early last month.

The 6-2, 215-pound Hagan came out of Arizona State with a reputation as a solid route runner with decent speed. The problem during his time with Miami was his hands, as he dropped several passes. Hagan played the split end - or "X" receiver - position with the Dolphins, so perhaps that's where the Giants envision him playing. That's where Burress played and is now where Domenik Hixon most often lines up.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

While Kennard Watch 2009 rolls on, I am here to illustrate my excitement over another high school senior who has already said "I Do" to Dennis Erickson and Co.

Four-star recruit Jamal Miles from Peoria committed to ASU on Dec. 13.

I covered the 4A Division I quarterfinal game the article mentions, a contest in which Miles scored four touchdowns and ran for 203 yards. He has great feet and his field vision is very impressive. His most impressive run in that game was a 50-yard scamper in which he ran straight up the middle and was able to skate by every Millenium defender untouched.

With such an unstable running back corps last year, I think Miles may have the opportunity to make an immediate impact in the ASU backfield. Miles, who hails from departing senior Keegan Herring's high school, has tools similar to No. 24's, though from what I saw appears to be more of a vertical runner.
Photo Credit: David Wallace, Arizona Republic

Could Osweiler be next year's starter?

Let's be realistic here for a few seconds. Isn't that what we do best here at PFN?

Rudy Carpenter is gone. After 3 1/2 years of gutting out injuries and battling through adversity (real or imagined), his caree is over. And on September 5, 2009, when Arizona State takes on Idaho State in the season opener, we'll have someone other than RC as the starter under center for the first time since October 22, 2005.

From what we've all seen and heard, we still have no idea who the heir apparent to the job will be.

Who's to say that Brock Osweiler, who has verbally committed to Arizona State out of Kalispell, MT, isn't as much in the running for the starting job as anyone else currently on the roster?

Let's take a quick look at his competition:

Danny Sullivan: His only legitimate, if you can even call it that, game action came long after RC was yanked in the 2007 Holiday Bowl. He threw two garbage-time touchdown passes, but in other clean-up action, hasn't shown any propensity to be a big time college QB. He sails throws, looks panicky in the pocket even in non-pressure situations and has done little in two years to cement his status as even a clear #2.

Samson Szakacsy: He's certainly the most athletic moving with the ball but he hasn't proven that he can be reliable OR healthy. There are still lingering questions about his arm strength as well.

Chasen Stangel: Has shown me no progress as a football player. His football IQ is questionable at best and I have a feeling that his field vision struggles as well.

Jack Elway: Clearly the wild card in this race, as we haven't seen him enough even in full speed practice situations to make a judgement on whether #7's kid will ever be a strong enough QB to start or play here.

When you think about the players who are leaving with Rudy as well...Keegan Herring and Mike Jones being the ones that come immediately to mind...there's definitely a complete lack of impactful players at the skill positions who made significant contributions in 2008 that will suit up in Maroon and Gold in 2009.

Chris McGaha and Dimitri Nance will have next season to redeem themsevles after down seasons while T.J. Simpson, Gerrell Robinson, Shaun DeWitty and a few others will step in with limited experience and be next year's go-to guys.

So in my mind, if you're pretty much sticking inexperienced and/or underwhelming players into the starting lineup next season, the time seems right to start completely fresh and go with the guy under center that will mesh the best with these other youngsters.

And in my mind, that's why I think it's not so farfetched that Brock Osweiler should get a serious, hard look at being the starter for Arizona State next year.

If you've watched his film, he's clearly going to be the most accurate and strong-armed signal caller in camp next fall. The kid has terrific footwork for a high schooler and, since he worked out of the shotgun for most of his time in Kalispell, has the ability when needed to move around throughout the backfield. That's going to help him out behind a pretty horrendous offensive line.

He'll also be by FAR the biggest prospect for the starting job; he's got an entire four inches of height over Stangel, who at 6'4 is the tallest QB left on the roster. His measurements (6'8, 230) and prospectus (quintessential pocket passer) are remarkably similar to those of a certain ex-ASU quarterback who ended up as the Pac-10's all-time leader in touchdown passes.

(If you haven't caught on, that was the 6'6, 230-pound pocket passer named Andrew Walter)

Unless your concerned about stunting his growth; and in this situaton coming off a 5-7 season and a restless fan base, there seems to not much patience; there's no reason to not consider Osweiler a candidate for the starting job.

This all changes, obviously, if the whispers are true about Dennis Erickson's staff going to California earlier this month to scout two top JuCo quarterbacks.

Just saying.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Just By The Hair...

The air at the US Airways Center during the 1st half of the Desert Classic doubleheader today hung with the aura of an upset in the making.

Good thing the Arizona Wildcats took care of that with their stirring win over #4 Gonzaga and left the duty of a win by a nationally-ranked team to Arizona State.

By no means it was pretty, but today's 59-58 overtime win over IUPUI is definitely the Devils most impressive yet nervewracking victory of the young season.

There's nothing good to say, obviously, about being down 34-18 at the half. I don't care how good or bad the Jaguars are; let's be realistic; IUPUI might not be Baylor, but they're definitely not Jackson State and, arguably, could have been a mid-major to watch if George Hill had stayed around; it's not like the Sun Devils were playing a total pushover.

In the first half, IUPUI simply outclassed, outplayed and outshot ASU. The Devils were disoriented, careless with the ball and generally numb while shooting 7-for-22 and falling behind by 16 by the end of the 1st 20 minutes. It was the kind of play we saw out of Herb Sendek's squad during his first season in Tempe.

In the second half, we saw the Devils everyone has seen so far this season and we expect to see throughout the rest of this campaign. Ty Abbott was poised, James Harden was dominant (that slam dunk even brought Amare Stoudemire out of his seat) and Rihards Kuksiks played maybe the best 20 minutes of his college career thus far. It was a 180 from the first half; the Devils played like a team that could drive deep into March.

As far as I can remember, when the Devils silpped into the that man-to-man defensive strategy that coach Sendek seems to consider taboo, it was the first time I've seen it since early...EARLY...last season. However, as I've clamored for before, ASU has seemed so stuck in the matchup zone on defense that they have had no ability to adjust when teams (aka Baylor) seem to have no ability to miss from the outside. When the Jaguars shot over 50% in the 1st half and nailed four three-pointers late, it was another one of those situations where you asked yourself why the Devils would stick to the zone.

Finally, this time, they didn't. And it worked, as the Devils clawed their way back into a tie and drastically reudced the Jags shooting percentage.

The other thing that I feel has been addressed over the last few games have been the complaints that James Harden has been controlling too much of the offensive production. Today, four of the five starters hit double figures. Surprise! James Harden only had 9!

On that note, I really feel like Kuksiks is really coming into his own as a force on this team and quite possibly this team's go-to scorer who isn't named James Harden (and if you haven't voted, vote in the poll about this). The Latvian was aggressive toward the boards, grabbing nine, and even showed some mettlle in the paint, driving the lane and forcing shots.

This was a gut check. Every college power or potential March darling has to fight their way through a rough game against an inferior opponent at some point during the season. Kansas had to fight off a pesky Arizona (ironic?) last season. Memphis, their opponent in the National Title game, barely slipped by UAB and Mississippi State. Kansas themselves just lost to lowly UMass this weekend and #8 Tennessee was blown out on the road by Temple.

Am I saying we should be thankful that the Devils barely eked out a win against an overmatched opponent? Of course not. Just take the struggle with a grain of salt; it was bound to happen at some point, and with the guts they showed clawing back from that 17-point deficit, it might just be a needed wake-up call as the time towards Pac-10 play quickly ticks down.

(edit) Just remembered a point I forgot to make when I first published this post. I know it's the holiday season, I know the Cardinals were playing, I know that the economy is rough and there are more things to do with your time on a Sunday afternoon, but it's pretty much a consensus amongst everyone that there were barely 2,000 fans in the building at tipoff. Are you SERIOUS? Come on, Pitchfork Nation! We've clamored for a relevant men's basketball team for years, and this is how Sun Devil Nation supports a long-sought after winner?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Off-Topic: HS Sports on Chopping Block in NorCal

Totally off topic, but I feel that a story I've been chasing over the past 48 hours merits all the attention it can get.

I grew up in the Bay Area, and obviously, sports were a big part of my upbringing. That goes without saying. I competed for my high school teams as the majority of you probably did and cut my teeth in journalism by covering high school sports throughout California.

With today's economic woes, everyone is trying to cut corners. An 11-school high school district in San Jose, CA is now going about it the entirely wrong way. The East Side Union High School District passed a tentative budget last night cutting the entire $2.1 million athletic budget for all 11 schools, in effect, cutting every sports program.

It's not quite set in stone that it will happen, but if the economic climate for these schools, most located in run-down areas of San Jose, does not improve quickly...thousands of potentially at-risk students will be without the programs that keep many of them off the streets and out of trouble.

You can follow the story at my other blog, Beyond The Scoreboard. I'm trying to build attention to it down here in the Valley because this kind of situation is possible anywhere, and I'll be damned to see it happen here in Phoenix.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So, what WILL RC's legacy be?

Let's get one thing out of the way here...does that Debacle in the Desert really need to be recapped?


A week of work and having to talk ad nauseum about this game makes me wretch over...and over...and over...

You knew from the start, when Rudy Carpenter sailed a pass about 7 yards too tall for Kyle Williams on the first play of the game, that it wasn't going to be the Devils night.

Either way, the loss to Arizona, their first since the infamous Matt Miller game in 2004, was ugly, heartwrenching and a despicable end to a disappointing and seemingly neverending 2008.

A 2008 that started with sky-high expectations for a repeat 10-win season.

A 2008 that started in the top-25 and picked to be the 2nd best team in the Pac-10.

A 2008 that was supposed to define Rudy Carpenter's legacy at Arizona State University.

That last one certainly happened. And unfortunately for RC, in my mind, it's not a good one.

Rudy put up some tremendously gaudy numbers throughout the first three seasons of his career, especially his freshman and junior seasons in Maroon and Gold. The other two 2006 and 2008...were nothing short of a disappointment. So does that make it any easier to say that Rudy just had an average career?

That's a tough assessment to make based on his numbers...finishing in the top 10 in Pac-10 passing history, buoyed mainly by a pass happy offense (save 2006) and big play receivers (save 2008).

So, the question begs...what is Rudy Carpenter's legacy?

Here's my assesment: Rudy Carpenter will go down in ASU history as the toughest damn quarterback in the history of the football program, but his petulant attitude toward the media and the public, his temper and his failure to perform in the biggest games cements his status as someone who never lived up to whatever potential he had.

Rudy burst onto the scene in 2005 after Sam Keller went down with a busted hand and tore up the nation. We all know that he set an NCAA freshman record in passer rating that season, throwing 17 touchdown passes to only 2 picks; all but two of those touchdown passes coming after the start of that ridiculous game at Stanford where Keller left the game down 45-7 to the the lowly Cardinal and RC nearly bringing the Devils all the way back. He led the Devils to a last-second victory over Arizona to avenge the previous year's defeat and set all kinds of bowl game records in the shootout win over Rutgers in the Insight Bowl.

There was tremendous excitement in Tempe after that. Keller was healthy again and Carpenter was coming off of an unreal end of '05, leading the Devils and Dirk Koetter to what became the most bizarre quarterback controversy in recent memory.

And that's when it all started to unravel. That 24-hour period between the 2006 Friday night Fall Scrimmage and the conclusion of that Saturday's practice became, in retrospect, the biggest red flag about Carpenter's mindset and attitude. We might never know what exactly happened to make Dirk change his mind, prompting Keller to transfer to (and subsequently flounder at) Nebraska.

We've all heard the stories...RC lobbied the team one by one to tell DK to change his mind...Rudy's dad called Dirk to tell him that his son was to start or he'd transfer...the players were all on Rudy's side and mutinized to get Carpenter to start the job...we probably will never know what happened and what the actual true story is. What we do know is that after a strong start against weak opponents, Rudy imploded against Cal, Oregon and USC...throwing four picks against the Golden Bears and putting out the pathetic 33-yard performance against the Ducks.

He had a tremendous game against Arizona that season, throwing three first quarter touchdowns and vaulting the Devils to a 28-14 win over the Wildcats, sending the Devils to a drubbing at the hands of Hawai'i in their bowl game.

Then Dirk was fired. And all the while, there weren't any substantive quarterback recruits rolling into Tempe. Danny Sullivan started hanging around while Derek Shaw and other quarterbacks transfered out. It was pretty set that Rudy was going to be the starter for the long haul and that noone was going to challenge him.

2007 was, undoubtedly, the culmination of a strong running game, a fresh attitude in the locker room and, of course, a perfectly set up schedule. It's just unfortunate that Rudy was on his back for most of it.

Last season was the one that exacerbated Rudy's many glaring issues; his temper, his big mouth and his inability to throw the ball away when he's flushed and out of options. Rudy was sacked 54 times in that 10-3 season, 19 of those sacks coming in the Devils three losses to Oregon, USC and Texas. Even Stanford's pathetic pass rush got to RC 6 times. On so many of those sacks, we were all screaming at Carpenter to throw the ball away...a concept he just never seemed to grasp.

Like it or not, though, the Devils did win 10 games, boosted by tremendous performances by his supporting cast; Mike Jones, Chris McGaha, Ryan Torain and Keegan Herring all played out of their minds all season. However, in the three games the Devils lost, and in only the Oregon game was ASU in any way competitive, Rudy shut down. All the while, Rudy had issues running his mouth off the field. He likes to call it "swagger."

That swagger caught up to him in the Holiday Bowl, where he took every opportunity to rip on the Texas defense in the runup to the game. Then, RC threw for the least yards of any game that season, was sacked four times, threw two picks and was then serenaded by the Longhorns sideline in the waning moments of the loss.

The problems grew worse during that offseason.

During an ASU loss to Washington State at Wells Fargo Arena last January, we all remember Rudy showing up to the arena in a hot pink shirt and just walking around the student section as if he was waiting for someone to acknowledge his presence. He then...allegedly (since I didn't see it first hand)...chased a student down a ramp outside the arena, shouting homophobic slurs and making "WHAT SPORT DO YOU PLAY?" the hot slang term on campus in Tempe.

Then came this past disaster of a football season that we'll look back on and try to forget.

The win over Stanford early on looked promising...but of course, it was the last win we'd see for 2 months. During the Devils six game losing streak this season, RC threw just 6 TD passes against 6 interceptions...his highest yardage total was just 242 (and that was in the UNLV OT loss)...and he failed to even hit 200 yards against the teams that victimized him every year...Cal, USC and Oregon.

On the field, that swagger was gone. He began wearing a mouthpiece again, saying he didn't deserve to be able to talk that much and didn't want to give the younger players a bad impression.

Throughout the season, off the field, Rudy became more combative. He never was a quote machine by any means, but it became increasingly difficult to get fulfilling answers to questions. It came to a head during one press conference when, knowing he'd face a multitude of questions about his injury situation, told all of us that he didn't have any answers to our questions. He stopped doing interviews during the week, only meeting the media on Monday afternoons and after games. During the press conference after the Devils beat UCLA 34-9, with none of the credit due to Rudy's offense, he answered one question, alluding to the fact that his unit should just "punt on 1st down," and left.

Finally, only a few days removed from the biggest game of the year; a "season saver" for many fans and boosters; a game that would give the Devils an extra couple weeks of practice and a program record 5th straight bowl game....and so on....Rudy got himself kicked out of a girls high school basketball game.

Rudy, without any surprise, vehemently denied anything happened. However, who am I supposed to believe? Either:

A) the petulant starting quarterback who's underperformed all year and would deny any wrongdoing anyway...or
B) a respected Valley columnist who I know for a fact would not report anything unless he knew for a fact it was true?

100% of the time, I'm going to go with Dan Bickley.

I don't necessarily agree with Bickley that Rudy should be "at home with his playbook," but let's be realistic here...during UofA week...the last place I want my team's starting quarterback to be is getting himself kicked out of a high school basketball game.

Rudy told Bickley that he was an "innocent bystander" and that he was "tired of defending himself." Sorry, RC, but it's the simple matter of being a public figure and starting quarterback for a big time college program; everything you do will be scrutinzed and picked apart. Why even put yourself in that situation? As someone very smart once told me, "Athletes are never off limits, so be careful with everything you do."

Oh, and you want to play this game professionally? A world where EVERYTHING upon EVERYTHING will be scrutinized? Better get used to it.

After the game was over, three separate people told me on good authority that when he was approached by reporters after the loss in Tucson last week, he apparently shouted that columnists like Bickley and Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune never said anything nice about him.

Ahem. If I may quote.

"Under a backdrop of heightened pressure, ASU's football team responded with its best performance of the season. The defense was stout. The offense was aggressive and dynamic. And the Rudy Carpenter we all remember from last season finally took the reins." -Bickley, 11/12/06

"Rudy Carpenter is stress-free, and it shows. His unbeaten team has moved into college football's high-rent district. He no longer is required to run to the sideline between plays, as he did under the previous regime. Best of all, no one in Tempe is muttering a word about Nebraska or Sam Keller." -Bickley, 10/24/07

"A real football player never acknowledges his own toughness. Pain is simply part of the process, and pushing it aside is part of the warrior code. But in Arizona, we are lucky. These suddenly compelling, possibly exhilarating football seasons wouldn't be possible without the great moxie on display from the Cardinals' Kurt Warner and the Sun Devils' Rudy Carpenter, a pair of ask-no-quarter quarterbacks." -Bickley, 11/21/07

"There is an inordinate number of ASU fans who never have embraced Carpenter. When he threw two interceptions against Texas in the Holiday Bowl last December, and backup Danny Sullivan led ASU to two meaningless touchdowns in the fourth quarter, there was talk that Sullivan should be the starter this season. The criticism of Carpenter is inexplicable. He started every game last season despite playing with a torn ligament in his thumb and behind an offensive line that allowed 55 sacks." -Bordow, 8/3/08

You know...those sound pretty good to me.

All in all...the best single word I can come up with to describe Rudy's career at ASU is "tumultuous."

But I still have a feeling that we'll all be missing his better days when our new quarterback is struggling to grasp Dennis Erickson's offense.

I guess it all comes down to one of RC's last on-the-record quotes of his career at ASU..."What else am I supposed to do?"

If hindsight is 20/ had a lot of work to do, Rudy.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lady Luck, Please Let The Dice Stay Hot

"Bright light city gonna set my soul
gonna set my soul on fire...
Got a whole lot of money that's ready to burn
so get those stakes up higher...
There's a thousand pretty women waitin' out there...
And they're all livin' devil may care...
And I'm just the devil with love to spare...
Viva Las Vegas..."
-Elvis Presley

Anybody ready to hop in the car and take the 5 hour drive to Sam Boyd Stadium?

According to reports, officials from the Las Vegas Bowl will be at tomorrow's Duel in the Desert with a simple task: hand the game's winner tickets to Sin City.

The winner between Arizona and Arizona State, regardless of record (6-6 for ASU, 7-5 for Arizona) will be invited to the Las Vegas Bowl.

The Arizona Republic reports that, barring a catastrophic turn of events with USC losing to UCLA and Utah somehow (0% chance) gets left out of the BCS, the Wildcats or Sun Devils will face the Brigham Young Cougars, who would get the Mountain West Champion autobid since the actual champion, Utah, will be in a big money bowl.

I had a feeling earlier this week that the talk of the Devils going to the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco was a bunch of hooey (hooey? I'm getting old). It makes perfect sense for California to stay home. In these economic times, bowls are looking to save as much money as possible and keeping the Bears and their fans a short 20 minute drive across the Bay Bridge is the perfect situation for the bowl and for their committee. They'll most likely play the Miami Hurricanes, but Wake Forest and Maryland also seem like viable ACC candidates for that game.

If Arizona State wins, the Republic says Arizona would go to the Hawai'i Bowl, the very game Arizona State went to after beating Arizona in 2006 in Tucson. Ironic, no?

The Las Vegas Bowl, just for the record, takes place on Saturday, December 20.

And, frankly, who wouldn't want to take a long weekend up in Vegas?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mike Stoops...for what it's worth...Is Staying

Breaking news from Tucson in the run-up to the Duel in the Desert: apparently, Mike Stoops is safe.

Stoops, as seen on the right in a file photo in his favorite posture (screaming at referees), is not on the hot seat.

According to John Moredich of the Tucson Citizen, a story will run tomorrow that says that UofA president Robert Shelton, along with "several prominent boosters," are fully in support of Stoops. They're apparently "not thrilled with a 6-5" record in 2008 but they reportedly like where the program is going.

I'm speculating that "several prominent boosters" means Jim Click still likes Stoops.

Little Brother is 22-33 in 4+ seasons at Arizona including a meager 15-25 in the Pac-10. He's beaten us just once in his career; his first game against ASU in 2004 was the one in which Andrew Walter suffered a career-ending injury and Matt Miller dropped that 4th down pass to secure an upset for then 2-8 UofA against then 8-2 Arizona State.

Pac-10 Roundtable: End of Season Edition

Let's face it. We all REALLY wanted a December trip to frigid and windy AT&T Park for Christmas.

That's what the rumor is, folks. A win for Arizona State over Arizona this weekend will most likely lead to the much coveted bid to the December 27 game in San Francisco. It's a Pac-10/ACC matchup with the #5, #6 or #7 team coming from the woeful Atlantic Coast conference. That means ASU would probably take on the likes of Miami, Clemson, Maryland or Wake Forest.


On the flip side, a win for UA reportedly will garner Wildcat fans a short trip to Sin City for the Las Vegas Bowl. Frankly, I'd take a trip to Vegas over SF (ed. note: my hometown) any day of the week.

Which leads to the main question in this week's roundtable; the last fully football themed one of the season.

Onward ho!

1) Is it better suited for the conference as a whole to send the most teams possible to bowl games or only ones that have a legitimate chance at victory...AKA teams that won't further embarrass the Pac-10?

The obvious answer relates to the idea that less is more. The Pac-10 has seven bowl order of prominence, they go Rose, Holiday, Sun, Las Vegas, Emerald, Hawai'i and Poinsettia. The conference will have a maximum of six teams bowl eligible this season, leaving the lesser San Diego bowl in the dust and possibly the Hawai'i or Emerald in the cold as well if ASU loses on Saturday.

USC is more or less a lock for the Rose Bowl, Oregon will most likely be in the Holiday Bowl and Oregon State, after going belly-up against the Ducks, will find themselves in El Paso. California and Arizona could go either way for the Las Vegas and Emerald Bowls. A win for ASU pushes them into a bowl game as well.

But let's be realistic. I'll be very happy to see good matchups between USC and Penn State in the Rose and Oregon take on a game Big XII opponent, possibly Oklahoma State. However, I have my serious doubts that any other Pac-10 team can put up a fight in their bowl. If Oregon State were to play, say, Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl, LeSean McCoy would have his way with the Beavers run defense. Since Utah is going to the BCS, BYU would get the MWC autobid to the Las Vegas Bowl, and I don't think Arizona can run with the Cougars. California and Arizona State would get either Hawai'i or one of the middling ACC teams...and in the ACC's case, I think they would beat either the Bears or Sun Devils.

That's the long answer to a short conclusion: the Pac-10 is in serious danger of closing the 2008 season on a disastrous note, possibly even with the conference losing ALL of their bowl games.

2) What's the deal, OSU? Look, I get it, ruin your own season, that's fine. Nobody cares about that. But to ruin Cal's season? And to cost the entire Pac-10 millions and millions of dollars? What's up with that? I mean c'mon!

As you probably can tell, that question was authored by our great friends at California Golden Blogs.

Oregon State's loss to Oregon in the Civil War was disastrous and a blessing at the same time. With the loss (and an impending USC jackstomp of UCLA on Saturday), TV ratings and revenue streams go up for the Rose Bowl with the Trojans coming. On the flip side, obviously, is that an Oregon State trip to Pasadena would have more than likely led to a very undeserving double BCS bid for the Pac-10 and, as stated, left upwards of $14 million for the conference in the dust.

As for the Golden Bears...sorry Berkeley...instead of complaining about Oregon State losing, sending you to a lesser bowl and screwing the conference out of a treasure chest of cash, maybe you should be more worried about why your Bears fell behind by 22 to Maryland, forgot to play in the 3rd quarter in Tucson and left the offense in the Bay when you faced USC. Too harsh?

3) Arizona State is one win away from becoming bowl eligible with a tough game at Arizona this week. Can the Sun Devils pull it out and get to the post-season?

It's not going to be easy, but of course we can. The fun thing about the ASU/Arizona rivalry is that you never really know which way their game is going to go until foot meets pigskin. Look no further than the 2004 game when a roaring Sun Devils team looked confused, disoriented and downright bad against an Arizona squad whose only two previous wins were over FCS Northern Arizona and FCS-resembling Washington.

ASU needs to win this game for their youngsters. I know that it's usually the correct thing to say that you want to win your last rivalry game for your seniors, but let's be real. The freshmen and sohpomores need those extra three weeks of practice. A loss in Tucson takes those away. I'm not even worried about ASU's potential bowl opponent or where they're going in reality; I'm more worried that a loss to the Wildcats will deprive the Sun Devils of three very important extra weeks on the practice field.

4) Over the weekend, a number of USC Trojan comments appearing on the InterWebs made mention of how disappointed they were to be going to yet another Rose Bowl (UCLA game notwithstanding). Has the Rose Bowl game gradually lost its luster under the BCS format?

InterWebs (n) - 1) a series of tubes interconnected to discuss and complain about movies and sports; 2) a forum for people to share pornography

Thought I'd get that out of the way.

I think the Rose Bowl has definitely lost it's way in the 10 years they've been involved in the BCS. However, I'm 99.9999% certain that USC fans, and rightfully so, have their eyes on the crystal football. So, when they fall short as they have for three seasons now, the Rose Bowl is just a consolation prize.

(Note: It'll be the 4th straight Rose Bowl for the Trojans, but the 1st one was the National Title game vs. Texas, hence why I refer to 2006, 2007 and 2008 as "falling short".)

The allure of the Rose Bowl started to fall in 2000, when Miami met Nebraska in the BCS Title game. Last I checked, that was Big East/Big XII matchup...the first time since 1946 that a team from outside the Big Ten or Pac-10 participated (it was Alabama, and they beat USC) and the first since 1919 where the game featured neither. In a five-bowl span between 2001 and 2006, the Rose Bowl saw only one Pac-10/Big Ten game. In that time, Miami, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas all found themselves in Pasadena.

That coming after eight decades of featuring SOLELY the champions from the Pac-10 and Big Ten. THAT'S where the Rose Bowl lost it's way.

5) Oklahoma jumped Texas in the latest BCS poll. Is this an example of the BCS getting it right or does it add more fuel to the growing calls for a playoff system

Wait a second. Isn't this the PAC-10 roundtable? Do we have a Big XII mole somewhere in here? CougCenter, I'm looking at you...*fist shake*...

First off, there will never be a playoff system. You can hold your breath until you're blue in the face. Just forget it. As long as university presidents and athletic directors like money (and last I checked, money was not going out of style, we're all just running out of it), we'll have bowl games.

Let's go back to last season. We all bitched and moaned at the end of the season when a 2-loss LSU team and overrated Ohio State met in N'Awlins for the National Championship and the two teams where were inarguably the best in the country at the time, USC and Georgia, pounded their opponents in other BCS bowls.

This year, Oklahoma is CLEARLY playing the best football in the Big XII right now at the end of the season, but everyone is bitching and moaning because Texas beat Oklahoma on a neutral field.

Which leads me to this eloquent thought:


No one is right and no one is wrong here. The whole system is convoluted and disastrous but, frankly, it's the best we've got without a bracket, which we've already established will come when Western Kentucky plays for the National Championship. But in my mind, usually the BCS is designed to reward the teams playing the best football at the end of the season, and that's Oklahoma right now.

Walter's Records Are Safe, Folks

I know it's pretty much a moot point, but it's at least worth bringing up right now as I try to wake up on this Wednesday morning.

I'm sure you've all noticed on the right sidebar, among all the useful schedules, polls and other information, that we've been tracking all year Rudy Carpenter's attempt to break Andrew Walters ASU and Pac-10 records for passing yards and touchdowns.

It's taken a lot of work for a guy who hasn't taken math since his senior year of high school. Adding and subtracting were never my strong suits, despite the fact that I can compute a pitcher's ERA or a goalie's GAA in seconds.

Anyway, as you can see, going into the Arizona game, Rudy needs 463 yards to break A-Dub's career passing yardage record.

Anything is possible obviously; Rudy has popped off before, but it's the longest of long shots for RC, in a season where he and his receivers have struggled mightily to matriculate the ball down the field, to drop 450+ on the UofA secondary.

And to just state the obvious, it's an even more staggering low percentage that he drops 8 TD passes on the Wildcats. Duh.

So, even though AW's pro career has stumbled at the Oakland Raiders Summer Camp For Kids Who Can't Read Good, his records in Tempe are safe.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Back in the Saddle

There's been a major gap in my posting. I know. It's been a while. But can you blame me when I'm spending 9 days staring at this all day?
Didn't think so. Puerto Vallarta, along with bucket upon bucket of Negro Modelo, for a week was just what I needed to get through the rest of the year.

But we're back! And not a second too soon. More to come on ASU/UA, but for now, enjoy this weeks Pitchfork Podcast, where we talk about James Harden, the Duel in the Desert and my argument for Kevin Craft to be the next starting QB at Arizona State.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Since ESPN decided to show women's basketball instead of ASU and its red-hot All-American on Sunday night, I thought an update was in order. In case you missed the late night game on Friday and tonight's game against UTEP, James Harden amassed 72 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals in just TWO games!

On Friday night against Baylor, ASU's trademark defense fell apart and the Devils could not get a stop in the second half. Despite the bad defense, Harden nearly brought ASU back single-handedly by scoring 24 points in the last 9 minutes of the game, finishing with a tournament record 32 points in a frustrating loss. That record would not last 48 hours as Harden poured in 40 points in the tournament's consolation game as ASU cruised by 30 over UTEP.

If you haven't gotten on the bandwagon yet, now is the time to jump.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Former Sun Devil Wakamatsu named Mariners Manager

The Seattle Times has a great story on the rise of Don Wakamatsu, who played with the Sun Devils in the early 80's. You know, before most of our readers and myself were born.

Among other things, Wakamatsu talks about his relationship with Barry Bonds:

"It was one of those love-hate things," Wakamatsu told The Chronicle. "I loved watching the things he [Bonds] could do and I hated lockering next to him. That was more jealousy about what he could do and how easily he handled the pressure. He was so gifted so early."

Check out the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pac-10 Roundtable: Tempe is Basketball Country

I know, I know. There are still two football games to go this season and ASU needs to win both to earn a trip to the postseason and, in my opinion more importantly, three more vital weeks of practice for all of these youngsters.

But let's be realistic for just a second here. We all waited with bated breath for last Friday's thriller with Mississippi Valley State.

Despite the fact that the only thrilling thing about the 80-64 win at WFA was waiting to see whether or not ASU would actually hit theier free throws, it was nice to see a Sun Devils team come out and live up to a billing, regardless of whether it was one game against a team from a town called Itta Bena (Fun Fact: Itta Benna is a Choctaw word for "camp together").

Anyway, because of my happiness about basketball season starting, I successfully petitioned the Men of the Pac-10 Table to start some hoops discussion.

Avast, mateys! It might not be Talk Like a Pirate Day, but I'm going to anyway. Roundtable!

1. The Pac-10 has 7 bowl contracts to fill and currently only 5 spots filled. Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona State all sit in the middle of the Pac with 6 losses. Out of those three teams, which, if any, will make it to post-season play?

I have to stick with the prediction that I made several weeks back and say that none of them will get to six wins. I don't think that Stanford has the firepower to get past a California team that will be hungry to get this win so they get to 8 after they beat Washington. I think UCLA will drop their matchup in Tempe on the day after Thanksgiving and then lose to USC to finish 4-8. Arizona State, as I just said, should be UCLA on their home turf next week but I have serious doubts about them being able to go down to Tucson and win this year.

2. Is there anybody NOT rooting for OSU to win out and go to the Rose Bowl? Anybody? I think even Pete Carroll has to have a spot in his heart for this story. And if OSU does win the Pac10, pushing USC to 2nd, do you think USC will make a BCS game or find itself in the Holiday Bowl?

Yes, there are, those people take up offices at the American Broadcasting Company.

Unless Penn State lays an egg against Michigan State on Saturday, they'll be the champions of the Big Ten and earn themselves a spot in the Rose Bowl. Obviously, if Oregon State wins out, they'll be the team the Nittany Lions face. I seem to remember a certain 45-14 embarrassment that Penn State laid on the Beavers...on ABC, nonetheless. The last thing the network wants for it's only major bowl telecast of the year is a rematch of a game that wasn't even a game.

Everyone else is, that's for sure. The Rose Bowl committee certainly would love the extra revenue from having two out-of-town contingents for the first time in years.

For USC, as the BCS complexion takes shape, the fact that it still includes Utah and Boise State makes it very difficult to believe that the Trojans will go BCS bowling this season. These games salivate over having Ohio State in their stadiums because of how well they travel and the potential to have a star like Terrelle Pryor on their field. The loser of the Florida/Alabama SEC Championship game will almost certainly find themselves with an at-large bid as well. USC's best hope is for BYU to beat Utah or for the Smurf Turf Gang to drop a game down the stretch.

3. Let's take a stroll down basketball lane. What are your Pac-10 rankings for 2008-09?

1) UCLA Bruins: Still too much firepower, led by Darren Collison and super-frosh Jrue Holliday.
2) Arizona State Sun Devils: Not enough room here.
3) USC Trojans: DeMar DeRozan is going to be a beast in this league. A one-and-done beast.
4) Washington State Cougars: Lost talent on offense, but can still D up with the best of them.
5) Washington Huskies: Lorenzo Romar finally has some talent to work with again. Jon Brockman is an All-American
6) California Golden Bears: Mike Montgomery will give the program a shot a badly-needed jolt.
7) Arizona Wildcats: Probably will be better than Cal, but the Olson debacle leaves the program in a tizzy.
8) Stanford Cardinal: No Lopez twins means little success for first-year coach Johnny Dawkins.
9) Oregon Ducks: They already lost to Oakland this season...enough said.
10) Oregon State Beavers: At least their players can say, "I know a guy who knows Obama!"

4. Now that we've seen your B-Ball Top 10 (with assuredly UCLA at the top and OSU at the bottom), who is your surprise team this year? And why is it Cal?

First off, CGB, it's not Cal. Sorry. Max Zhang and Jordan Wilkes just don't inspire me to say, "Wow! Cal is going to be great!"

Can I say there won't be one? I really feel like all of the top teams will be very good, the bad teams will be very bad and the middling teams will be very...middling. Washington and Washington State are nice but they don't seem to have the youthful talent or spark to pull upsets this season.

In place of naming a surprise team, I'll give you a team that will make the most upward progress since last season and that will be the Huskies. I really, what Jon Brockman brings in terms of size and leadership, Justin Dentmon and Venoy Overton are both competent options at PG and freshman wingman Scott Suggs has the chance to make an immediate impact.

5. With the legendary Lute Olson out at Arizona, what are their chances of making the tournament this year?

Slim to none. Sure, Chase Budinger is still inexplicably hanging around, but the players around him are nowhere near the caliber of talents to lift this team into another postseason. Frankly, I didn't think this was a tournament team before Lute retired/quit/lost his key to McKale Center.

Russ Pennell has already established himself as a strict disciplinarian and it's rubbing players the wrong way; Nic Wise and another unidentified teammate are apparently still burned about being held from the starting lineup in an exhibition game because they were one minute (yes, literally one minute) late for shootaround that morning.

The thing that will keep UofA out of the tourney this year is their inability to lock down in clutch situations. A trait that was taken for granted for the past two decades, the Wildcats have stunningly lost their ability to close out games. One might trace it all back to the 2005 Elite Eight collapse against Illinois, but it's a consistent problem that Arizona has faced over the past three years.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Staying alive

Is it possible to win 31-0 and still be unimpressive?

The Sun Devils answered that question with a clear YES on Saturday in their win over Washington State. You can't take anything away from the ASU defense, which recorded its first shutout since 1996's storied 19-0 win over top-ranked Nebraska. But offensively, the Sun Devils continue to struggle to find any sort of rhythm. Rushing for 106 yards against a team giving up nearly 300 hundered per game can hardly be considered a rousing success. Giving up two sacks in a two-play span against a team that had only seven coming in doesn't bode well either.

With all that being said, the Sun Devils kept their postseason hopes alive and have set up the possibility of the Territorial Cup meaning just that much more on Dec. 6. Style points don't matter when the goal is becoming bowl-eligible, but wins -even if they come against two of the nation's most pathetic programs -do.
Photo credit: Rob Schumacher, AP

Thursday, November 13, 2008

ASU at 1600 Pennsylvania

Thanks to the commentor that led me to this today...

ASU's national championship Track & Field and Softball teams were greeted at the White House by Bush 43 yesterday. It's a repeat trip for the tracksters.

Hard for me to identify most of the people in the picture, but the ones I can pick out are AD Lisa Love (white pantsuit on the left), shotput national champion Jessica Pressley (directly to the left of GWB) and SID Alex Ryan (our friend and yours!).

Congrats to our champs! Also nice to see that Bush has found some stuff to do to keep busy as Barack starts redecorating.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One Step Back, Two Giant Steps Forward

Just after Jared Cunningham pulled a 180 and decided not to come to ASU, the Sun Devils landed two more solid recruits on the first day of the early signing period.

First, the Devils received a signed letter of intent from 6'5" guard Trent Lockett out of Hopkins High School in Minnesota. Lockett is apparently a dynamo of a shooting guard, ranked 25th among SG in the ESPN rankings and hovering around the same in other rankings.

Just a few moments ago, ASU added some much needed size to their future lineup. Ruslan Pateev, a 7-foot man-beast of a Russian from Monteverde Academy near Orlando, FL, put on an ASU hat at a press conference in central Florida.

ASU loses a verbal commit

Not a whole lot of analysis for this one...would have been nice to get Jared Cunningham in the mix in coming years, but I guess you can't win them all.

He gave a verbal to Herb Sendek and ASU last October but apparently informed the Devils today that he will not be coming to ASU. He's got other options that he's considering across the West Coast.

Apparently, Cunningham was going to have eligibility issues anyway.

Doug Haller at The Republic can explain it all better than I can today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yes We Can!

2008-2009 Men's Basketball Season Preview

After enduring one of the worst football recessions in the collective memory of ASU fans, it’s time for change. We need a team that can inspire the nation! We need a team that can offer hope to the common fan! We need a team that has not been corrupted by years of NCAA experience and policies! Can you feel the excitement?! Well America (or maybe just Arizona), we have found that team. A team that you can follow into conflict and feel confident about. A team that you know will make the correct decisions in times of need. A team that will bring young people and old people together under a common cause. This team is an unlikely hero. A young, fresh team that gained recognition at the 2008 NCAA Selection Show and started a buzz across the United States. A team that has gained momentum among the talking heads in the media and offers an overwhelming message of hope. Who is this team? Your 2008-2009 ASU Men’s Basketball team!!

Now you may be saying to yourself, “Wow T.J., that was a bit overzealous. Maybe you should sit down before you hurt yourself.” If so, you’re probably correct, but after six straight games of ASU football where I felt like an altar boy leaving a private meeting with a priest, I deserve something to get excited about. (Okay, that analogy was a bit extreme and most likely offensive but it got the point across didn’t it?) Anyway, basketball season is just around the corner and ASU fans should be reminded that we have something to be proud of. Recently, as I was talking to a friend about ASU football, we were discussing the (strong) possibility that we would lose to Arizona in football this year and we realized that this may be the first time since 1769 that ASU fans would be the ones chanting, “Wait ‘til basketball!” at that game. As sad as that thought is, the truth remains the same: ASU basketball is primed for its best season in years, and unlike football, this team is for real.

Bringing back its top eight players, including all five starters, ASU is looking to improve upon the 2007-2008 season that saw the Sun Devils start off slow but make giant leaps in progress, finishing the season 21-13 and unfairly shut out of the NCAA Tournament. Coming off such a season, with an excellent coach, and a load of returning talent, it’s no wonder that ASU is finally receiving national media attention. Of course the main reason for this is one James Harden.

ASU’s most prized athletic possession spent the summer not only working out with - and impressing the likes of - Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James, but also has been accumulating media accolades. Gracing the pages of Sports Illustrated, SLAM, Athlon, POST, Sporting News, and any other basketball publication known to man, James Harden has officially arrived. Flying mostly under the radar last year, James Harden had one of the greatest freshman seasons in ASU history. One can understand how Harden may have been lost in the Pac-10 shuffle last year among O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, Jerryd Bayless, and all the other conference players drafted last year. What some may not understand is how good this guy actually is. If you somehow missed the entire season last year and didn’t get to see Harden play, go ahead and invest in some season tickets or ESPN Full Court so you can see him play every game this season.

Coming off a freshman season, where he averaged 17.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, and 2.1 spg, James Harden is poised to take the nation by storm. Look for his statistics to improve across the board as he heads into his second season under the tutelage of Herb Sendek. There were times last season where Harden sat back and unselfishly tried to let his teammates lead the team. I expect that we will see a more aggressive offensive game this year from Harden. The great thing about Harden though is that his game never seems forced. It doesn’t ever appear that he’s struggling or over-exerting himself. The game flows naturally through him and he can simply take over in the clutch. All of those overtime wins last year? Mr. Clutch himself took over each of those and led the Sun Devils to victory.

While Harden has been named as a pre-season All-American by several publications, the Sun Devils have also been subject of media attention. Since there are more pre-season basketball rankings than there are celibate ASU freshmen, the Devils have been ranked anywhere between #12 and #25, depending on where you look. The reason for ASU achieving its second highest AP pre-season ranking (#15) in school history, is not just James Harden. Along side Harden comes six more returning starters. That’s right, ASU has seven returning starters. How does that happen? Well, depending on the game, Harden, Jeff Pendergraph, Ty Abbott, Jerren Shipp, Derek Glasser, Jamelle McMillan, and Rihards Kuksiks all started a number of games last season. All of these players are back and should see significant minutes this year. It is rare that a team returns its top seven guys, so let’s take a minute to look at each.

James Harden

I’ve already said plenty about this young stud, but really I could write articles for days about how good he is and how key he will be for the Sun Devils this year. Teams will be keying on him even more this year so his numbers may be harder to get but there are several things working to his advantage. First, the Pac-10 is weaker this year than it was last year and he should thrive in conference play. Second, with his supporting cast being much more experienced this year, they should be able to keep defenses a bit more honest, allowing him more freedom. Finally, with a summer of working with the aforementioned Bryant, Pierce, and James, along with brilliant coach Herb Sendek, James Harden is just that much better coming into this season.

Jeff Pendergraph

The senior big man should be a perfect complement to Harden’s swing game. A mobile big man with excellent defensive capabilities, Pendergraph should be much more comfortable this year as he is no longer looked at as ASU’s first option. In the past, he was the go-to man and I found him to be somewhat underwhelming. For a guy that has had NBA buzz in the past, I’ve always been left wanting more out of him. While he has been continuously solid for the Devils, averaging 12.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, and 1.6 bpg, he has not been as good as he could be. He sometimes looks as if he is unsure of his footwork in the post, which worries me for a guy that could potentially dominate the post every night. Of course, I am being very critical as Pendergraph has a lot of great things that this team needs. Pendergraph is a strong shot blocker and is the emotional leader of this team. He is a guy that clearly wears his emotions on his jersey and when he is fired up, the Devils are a much better team. In games where Pendergraph scored early, he was much more effective as he was able to gain comfort early in the game before his emotions could start playing with his head. If Pendergraph can average close to a double-double and stay out of foul trouble, the Devils should have a good chance to win every game this season.

Ty Abbott

The sophomore shooting guard should be the X-Factor for the Sun Devils this year. One of the streakiest shooters I’ve ever seen, if he is able to be more consistent from the outside, he should be able to keep zone defenses in check and open up Harden for more man-to-man coverage. While Abbott was often great from behind the arc, what I really wished he did more of was slashing to the basket. He did this on rare occasions last season and showed some skill that I think could be better utilized. If Abbott and Harden both had the green light to slash inside, they would open each other up for outside shots and could collapse the defense to give Pendergraph open looks as well. My biggest hope for this season may be that Abbott opens up his offensive game and gains a bit more consistency from three point range.

Derek Glasser

Excellent at protecting the ball, Glasser has proven himself to be a very reliable floor general. With one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the nation, Glasser works mainly as the man that brings the ball up, sets the offense, and then gets out of the way for the scorers to operate. While Glasser doesn’t shoot much, he has shown the ability to knock down shots when needed. A smart ballplayer, Glasser’s best asset is his consistency and his willingness to operate as an unsung hero. There were several games last season where his ability to do all of the little things on the court ensured ASU victory. Don’t expect much difference in his numbers this year, but another year of experience should serve Glasser and the rest of the team quite well.

Jamelle McMillan

A true coach’s son, McMillan showed great ability to pick up the offense quickly last season and worked his way into the starting lineup early on in the season. While his numbers don’t jump off the page, McMillan is a good defensive complement to Glasser and should improve across the board this year statistically. It should be interesting to see if McMillan begins to take over any more of Glasser’s minutes this year. Glasser was the PG at the end of games last season and if McMillan continues to improve, Sendek could have a good dilemma on his hands this year when it comes to point guard.

Jerren Shipp

With the exception of his ASU debut, Shipp has been almost exclusively a quiet role player. Shipp has the ability to score in several ways, but seems content to live in the shadows of Harden and Pendergraph. Shipp comes from a family of ball players and has a good basketball IQ. He is many times asked to play as an undersized post player and has done reasonably well defending opposing bigs. Shipp does a lot of the things that don’t show up in the box score and is an important part of this team.

Rihards Kuksiks

The Latvian-born sophomore came on strong at the end of last season and gained a lot of minutes as the season wore on. Kuksiks is the second-best returning outside shooter after Harden. Kuksiks is another guy that will benefit largely from logging significant minutes as a freshman and should show marked improvement this year. If his defense improves, he will find himself on the floor in clutch situations.

The Rest

Eric Boateng – I left him off of the key returning guys because, well, he has been a huge disappointment. At times last year he was so bad that a friend and I started calling it “pulling a Boateng” when someone did something dumb on the court or turned the ball over. With his size, he really gets your hopes up but he just hasn’t come through. ASU could really use him to give Pendergraph a break in the post but he has been mainly a liability. Any improvement out of him would be huge for the Devils.

Kraidon Woods – I want so badly for him to be good. He is one of those guys that you love watching because he has so much raw potential but also hate watching because he just hasn’t realized it yet. Still one of my favorite players on the team, but for no good reason.

Johnny Coy – The Devils’ top recruit this year had some buildup but I don’t anticipate seeing much of anything from him this year. Sources have told me that he has been unimpressive in practice and not the shooter he was expected to be. Don’t get your hopes up here. That being said, I would love to be wrong.

Taylor Rohde – A Phoenix product and very similar to Johnny Coy in body type and high school statistics. I think Rohde and Coy will be the only freshman with a chance to play any this year and should get buried on the bench once the conference season begins.

After looking through the roster and knowing how the Devils performed last year, it’s easy to see why pundits have chosen ASU to finish second in the Pac-10 this year. UCLA is still clearly above everyone else in the conference, but the Sun Devils should be able to beat everyone else in the conference. I even expect that ASU could give the Bruins a run when they come to Tempe this year. Look for ASU to win 25-26 games this year and easily make their way into the NCAA Tournament. Without having seen them play a minute this year, I’m calling at least a Sweet Sixteen berth. The only thing that worries me is ASU’s glaring lack of post depth but thankfully the Tournament is dominated by guards and wing players and the Sun Devils just so happen to have one of the best in the nation.

ASU kicks off the season this Friday, November 14 at home against Mississippi Valley State. The game begins at 8pm. Continue to check out Pitchfork Nation for analysis throughout the season and I’ll be back with improved podcasts as the season gets going.

Sun Devil Basketball. Yes we can!

Oh boy.

*nervously looks around*

Oh boy.

Any good ideas for a jinx-breaker?

Pitchfork Podcast: The Justin Isn't There Edition

Since I was off doing my day job last night, I didn't get a chance to join Todd and Brett on The Stretch for our weekly look at ASU sports.

They found someone nice to fill in for me though.

The guys at The Blaze got to chat with men's basketball coach Herb Sendek last night for a while in anticipation of this Friday's season opener with Mississippi Valley State.

And even if I hadn't been watching my beloved 49ers embarrass themselves at the UOP last night, I'd gladly step aside for Unkie Herb any day.

Take a listen.

The 11/11 Pac-10 Roundtable: "Everybody Love Everybody"

It's apparently Will Ferrell reference week here at PFN.

Not that this is a bad long as we stay away from that Stranger Than Fiction disaster. I'm waiting for those two hours of my life back.

Anyway, we had another new and welcomed twist to the Pac-10 Roundtable: the "everyone hosts" edition!

Five of us (including yours truly) submitted one question to the pot and we came out with the best five. Don't forget to check out the other Square Table member blogs to check out their answers as well.

And now, in the spirit of spreading the wealth, it's this week's roundtable.

1. USC and OSU win out. OSU wins the Pac10 and goes to the Rose Bowl. USC doesn't win the Pac-10, but due to the Big XII and the SEC cannibalizing themselves, manages to get into the National Championship game. Discuss.

Forgive me, but I'm a little verklempt thinking about USC being, once again, where they shouldn't. The scariest thing here is that this could actually happen. Don't forget that back in 2001, Nebraska didn't even WIN THE NORTH DIVISION in the Big XII yet still went to the Rose Bowl/National Championship (and got jackstomped by the Fighting Dorseys).

That 2001 season, with Oregon and Colorado having better cases than Nebraska to get to the title game, was clearly the strangest season the BCS has ever seen, but 2008 has a chance to be almost as weird.

I'm going to go ahead and assume that the winner of the SEC Championship will be in the National Title game, so throw Florida/Alabama in there. That leaves USC, the champion of the Big XII and, as the longest shot, Penn State.

It's easy to say that if Texas Tech wins out, and that's far from a certainty since they'll have to beat Oklahoma and most likely Missouri in their conference championship, they'll be in Miami to face Florida/Alabama.

If the Red Raiders lose, all hell will break loose. Then you've got Texas stating their case to move up if they can win out and take the Big XII, Penn State wanting to vault USC and Utah into the top two and, in a repeat of 2006, even the loser of Alabama/Florida claiming in Michigan-esque fashion that they still deserve a chance at a rematch.

Oh, and about those pesky Utes. Don't forget them. They're hovering at #7, and a perfect storm of losses could hasten their ascent to the top two. And frankly, none of us want that.

But about USC. Absolutely possible. If the Trojans can win out, Texas Tech loses and Texas loses the Big XII Championship game, then the Men of Troy will most likely be #2.

2. Oregon State is the only team that controls its Pac-10 destiny due in large part to freshman phenom Jacquizz Rodgers, but their next 3 games will be their toughest stretch of conference games. What are their chances of winning out and going to their first Rose Bowl since 1965?

Very possible, but it wont be easy. California has steadily gotten better over the course of the season but they've struggled away from Berkeley, going 1-3 with that only W coming in Pullman, so it really doesn't count. What's more disturbing is that the Bears offense nearly shuts down away from home (6 points in the first three quarters at Maryland, 2nd half stagnation at Arizona and the debacle in LA).

Arizona will be a stiff test because now that they are guaranteed a bowl game, they wont be content to just stand pat with their six wins. They'll also have to find a way to shut down Rob Gronkowski and Keola Antonin, who have established themselves as the offensive pacemakers for the Wildcats.

Anything can happen in that Civil War. Nothing more needs to be said.

3. It's pretty widely accepted as of now that the Pac-10 is having, across the board, its worst season in years. Give us your #1 reason for this sudden downturn in quality.

The quality of quarterback play in the Pac-10 has been completely diminished over the past four seasons and I relate that directly to the downturn in quality of play in the conference. In fact, I've been working on an enormous project which I'll unveil between the UA game and the start of the bowl season here on PFN showing you exactly why.

Consider this a Cliff's Notes version of it.

Just four years ago...the good old days of 2004 when I was a sophomore at ASU and the world was my kegger, the Pac-10 had the nation's 7th and 8th rated passers (Matt Leinart and Aaron Rodgers) with Andrew Walter of ASU coming in at 22nd. The conference also had six of the nation's top 40 in passing yards (Leinart, Rodgers, Walter, Derek Anderson, Drew Olson and Kellen Clemens). Anderson was 4th in the nation that year.

This season, the conference's highest rated passer is Mark Sanchez in 12th and Arizona's Willie Tuitama comes in at 18. Another Pac-10 QB doesn't show up until #38. Sanchez has the most passing yards in the Pac-10 with 2,122...good enough for 29th in America.

Even beyond stats, that generation of quarterbacks in 2004 were more mature, had better decision making skills and better field managers than this crop is. It's fair to say that there's a gap in age between the two seasons, but these youngsters have a lot of ground to make up.

4. Each season can bring significant change to a college football team, whether from graduation or a change in starters. Now that we've seen the majority of the 2008 season, what do you think will be the significant changes for your team to contend with in 2009?

The first major change will be at quarterback, where I'm now convinced that none of the undergrad signal callers currently on the ASU roster (Sullivan, Szakacsy, Stangel, Elway) will be anywhere close to being Pac-10 caliber starters in 2009. I'm convinced that ASU will hit the JuCo quarterback market to find a spot starter for next season and wait for Jack Elway or another QB recruit to develop.

At the same time, I'm not sure who is going to be in the backfield for the Devils next year either. Keegan Herring is out of eligibility, I'm really sketchy on Dimitri Nance or Shaun DeWitty being the full time starter and, sadly, we haven't seen enough of Ryan Bass in game situations to know if he's going to be a difference maker yet.

5. Will USC ever suck again? EVER!?!

Of course! The beautiful thing about college football is it's ebb and flow, regardless of how long change might take.

Every major power in college football eventually takes a step back, however brief. It can be for a number of reasons; a coaching change, a string of weak recruiting/disappointing recruiting classes, strength of the conference and other factors can all signal a temporary downfall of a major NCAA football powerhouse.

You need to look no further than teams like Miami, Florida State, Nebraska, Colorado, Alabama and, most recently, Tennessee and Michigan as programs where mitigating factors have led to all of these programs to briefly take a step back in power in the past decade and have, well, a "regular" or even a "bad" season. Yet, at their time at the top, we all wondered if they would "ever suck again...ever."

Eventually, Pete Carroll will leave, the allure may wear off and the Trojans may suffer a 9-3 or 8-4 season. Don't forget that this was the team that lost the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl after going 6-6, so it wasn't that long ago that USC was a program treading water in the Pac-10. This all may take 25-30 years, of course, but it will happen. Trust me.