California 47, Arizona State 38.
A few untimely injuries notwithstanding, the vibe around Arizona State this summer was pretty optimistic. The Sun Devils won their last two games in 2010 to break even for the year, and returned virtually the entire starting lineup. They unveiled some cool new uniforms. They were starting arguably the best defensive player in college football at middle linebacker. The preseason magazines tabbed them as the chic pick to win the Pac-12 South. Against a vulnerable division, with his most experienced lineup, the Sun Devils' breakthrough under Dennis Erickson was now, or it was probably never.
The answer, officially, is "probably never." Most ASU fans had already come to that conclusion long before Friday night, over the course of consecutive upsets at the hands of UCLA, Washington State and (worst of all) Arizona. Mathematically, it was confirmed Friday afternoon by Colorado's 17-14 upset at Utah, the Buffs' first road win since 2007, which improbably delivered the South Division crown to UCLA. By kickoff in Tempe, all that was left for Arizona State was to finish the trajectory from a 5-1 start to a winless November. And so it did.With their fourth consecutive defeat, the Sun Devils come in at 6-6 for the second year in a row, fall short of a winning record for the fourth year in a row, have endured at least one four-game skid in three of the last four seasons and likely sealed Erickson's fate as head coach. The fourth quarter found more than a third of the stadium empty, the best player on the team nailed to the bench and the offense bringing down the curtain with its third and fourth turnovers of the night.
In an online poll posted earlier this week by the Arizona Republic, nearly three-fourths of 10,753 votes were for Erickson's head. About twice as many cast their votes Friday by staying home.
The 25 percent who still think Erickson worth keeping around for a sixth year have at least one good argument: Arizona State was arguably the most injury-ravaged team in America, beginning with the loss of All-Pac-12 cornerback/kick returner Omar Bolden in the spring and eventually including nearly half the starting lineup. When relatively healthy, the Sun Devils beat USC convincingly on Sept. 24, and first-year starter Brock Osweiler emerged as one of the most prolific passers in the league.
Everyone else, however, sees a 64-year-old head coach whose program is running in place, and just blew his best opportunity to lift it out of the rut. The 2012 Devils will be significantly less experienced, and will have a much taller hurdle — USC, potentially loaded after two years of NCAA-mandated probation — standing between them and a division title. If five years isn't long enough, at a program that won seven games the year before Erickson's arrival and ten games the next, what is?
- Dennis Erickson