Brownie Points: Graham's first season now a success - East Valley Tribune: Columns

Brownie Points: Graham's first season now a success

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Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. Contact him at jbrown5548@aol.com

Posted: Saturday, November 24, 2012 12:14 pm

One win, especially on a season finale, can mean a lot in college football.

There are the valuable extra practices for a team learning a new system. There is an upgrade in prestige of bowl game and an improved locale (Vegas anyone?) for the alums. There is a seventh win and a winning record, something that sounds even better when it's a long-time coming.

For Arizona State University football fans, there is another year of bragging rights over the University of Arizona, which trumps the entire preceding paragraph with plenty of room to spare.

Three ASU wins in the last four trips down to the Old Pueblo is nice. And it leaves no doubt that season one of the Todd Graham era is a success.

No doubt, 2012 could surely have been better - consider the Sun Devils were a last-second loss to UCLA away from being the South Division participant in the Pac-10 championship game - but a 24-point fourth quarter and a 41-34 win over a ranked Wildcat team on Tucson soil is a mighty nice way to revive a disappointing stretch run.

Graham's team didn't go into the tank. Instead they re-filled and got back on the road. Even Friday, when a 17-9 lead disappeared and the Devils were a play away from a 14-point deficit, ASU found a way to turn the momentum and make three huge plays on defense and special teams to stun the Wildcats.

From the improved discipline on and off the field, to the return to the tradition of August at Camp Tontozona, to the way the Sun Devils finished games - a 24-7 fourth quarter Friday gives ASU a 126-48 edge for the season - the entire atmosphere change in Tempe over just 12 months. It's a much more important upgrade than one game in the win-loss record.

When the game ended, there was no retribution for Arizona's 2011 antics in Sun Devil Stadium. There were handshakes and a tasteful recognition of the ASU fans in the building.

Fans got to touch the Territorial Cup before it found its way to Frank Kush, who has won it more than any other man in the rivalry. Anyone imagine Dirk Koetter or Dennis Erickson doing that?

The Devils won the game the same way they saved their season. They refused to give up. Down to 5-5 after a 5-1 start or down 27-17 in a hostile building with time running short, ASU found a way to avert what appeared to be a certain fate.

There is work to be done. Oregon, USC, Stanford and Oregon State stand at a level ASU still aspires to. Keep in mind Erickson went 10-2 in his first season and was never about to attain anywhere near that success again.

The Sun Devil roster is thin everywhere and woefully so at several positions that cry out for a strong recruiting class.

But even for those Sun Devil fans who find Graham's bravado a bit much and his answers a bit rehearsed, you need only look at the way the seniors on this team responded to his approach and demeanor to know it's more genuine than seen at first blush. It would have been easy for them to play out the strong from the beginning this year, and even easier to beg off when things went sideways in October.

But for those seniors lured here by a 10-2 record in 2007 and a Holiday Bowl game against Texas, the taste of a first winning season and a bowl game that will be a true reward instead of a contractual obligation has to feel mighty good.

Not as good as beating Arizona, but mighty good all the same.

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