The Arizona State football team belongs to a fraternity whose membership decreases with each passing week, and some of the Sun Devils sound surprised that they are still included in the roll call.
There are 11 unbeaten teams remaining in the Division I bowl subdivision. Southern California, Oklahoma and defending national champion Florida are not among them. ASU is, thanks to its 23-20 comeback victory at Washington State on Saturday.
“Sometimes, you don’t know how you got there,” first-year coach Dennis Erickson said. “All of a sudden, you look and you’re 6-0. It’s really the old cliche of taking it one game at a time. That’s the thing with this team.
“Am I surprised we’re 6-0? Whenever you’re 6-0, you’re somewhat surprised. You just keep battling, and you try to get No. 7 next week.”
Erickson’s team is ranked 14th by The Associated Press, 13th by USA Today (coaches) and 14th by Harris Interactive. The first Bowl Championship Series standings will be released on Sunday, and the Sun Devils figure to be included for the first time since 2004.
There are a lot of unlikely schools among the list of unbeatens: ASU, Boston College, California, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana State, Missouri, Ohio State and South Florida. That is as good indicator of how crazy this season has been.
The latest news of the weird came on Saturday, when 40-point underdog Stanford — a 41-3 loser to the Sun Devils the week before and playing without its starting quarterback — stunned USC, 24-23.
USC-Cal on Nov. 10 will not be a showdown of conference unbeatens, but the Cal-ASU game on Oct. 27 could be.
ASU must first get by Washington this week, the first game of a second-half schedule that should be more rigorous than the first.
The combined record of ASU’s first six opponents: 15-19. Among the next six foes, which have a mark of 21-11, are three top-10 teams — Cal, Oregon and USC — and the annual date with Arizona, where anything can happen.
“I never thought we’d be 6-0, but we’ve taken care of the teams we had to take care of,” wide receiver Chris McGaha said. “We’ve played well, but we’ve got some tough ones coming up.”
ASU might be surprised at its record, but cornerback Justin Tryon said that the team is not satisfied.
“Of course, we want to get better. We need to,” Tryon said. “The coaches prescribe perfection for us. Every week, perfection.”
SUN DEVILS FOLLOW-UP
• The sacks keep piling up for Arizona State — 17 in the past three games, including seven on Saturday at Washington State — but the problems run deeper than the performance of the offensive line.
Yes, the front five continue to underperform, and coach Dennis Erickson said that more changes could be made this week. However, another factor is the failure of quarterback Rudy Carpenter to get rid of the ball at times.
“Sometimes he does,” Erickson said. “I don’t think that makes him different from any other quarterback. Does he do it all the time? No.”
Added Erickson: “We’re not executing as we need to as a whole offense.”
• Receiver Chris McGaha had four catches for a career-high 63 yards, including a 25-yard reception in the second quarter and a sliding, backhanded grab for 19 yards in the third quarter.
“I expected to, after last year, step it up and play like I know I can,” said McGaha, who has 18 receptions for 230 yards this season. “I can’t say I’m surprised I’m in this position, because I had high expectations for myself.”
• Cornerback Justin Tryon said he felt that the ASU defense allowed too many big plays. Washington State converted 7-of-18 third downs and drove 80 yards in just four plays and 1:06 to score a touchdown before halftime.
“We started killing ourselves and allowed them to make big plays,” Tryon said. “On third down, we killed ourselves. We allowed them to stay in the game. The score should have been about 48-10, but we let them stay in the game, on both sides of the ball. We weren’t executing like we needed to.”
• Tight end Brady Conrad caught a touchdown pass, the first Division I score for the Gilbert High and Scottsdale Community College product.
“We can use him in different situations than Tyrice (Thompson) because of Brady’s size,” Erickson said. “We use him like we would use Brent (Miller) if he was there. If we have them both back, it enables us to do more things.”
• Miller (knee) did not make the trip to Washington State and is day-to-day. Linebacker Gerald Munns (knee) will be sidelined for at least two more weeks, Erickson said.
• Reserve defensive tackle Saia Falahola will undergo surgery this week to repair a torn triceps muscle. He is out indefinitely.
• Receiver Kyle Williams (hip), linebacker Morris Wooten (knee) and safety Josh Barrett (quadriceps) are not expected to miss practice time.
• Tryon has long had a goal of returning an interception for a touchdown, and with each passing game without one, his teammates needled him about it. On Saturday, in his 19th start at ASU, he finally realized his objective.
That was likely part of the reason Tryon was so animated on his 69-yard return. He also indicated that he was responding to the jeers of the crowd at Martin Stadium.
Tryon’s showboating drew a 15-yard penalty and a chewing-out from Erickson.
“The fans were booing it and were in my ears,” Tryon said. “I wanted to calm them down and give them something to think about. But I should have just given the ball to the ref.”
• Kicker Thomas Weber’s streak of 11 consecutive field goals is believed to be the fourth-longest in the nation, behind North Carolina’s Connor Barth (19), Ohio’s Michael Braunstein (17) and Louisiana-Monroe’s Cole Wilson (17). Also, Weber will remain the punter, Erickson said.
• The Sun Devils have won consecutive Pac-10 road games for the first time since 1997.
ASU tries to improve to 7-0 when Washington visits Sun Devil Stadium Saturday for a 7:15 p.m. kickoff. The occasion marks the anniversary of another first by Carpenter, who made his debut as a starter against the Huskies in 2005 and completed 27 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns.
Dan Zeiger and Kyle Odegard