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July 21, 2006

Swami's preseason prognostications

You know the line - "everybody's doing it." We're in the dog days of summer. The sun is shining, the skies are blue and Swami's golf buddies are off spending time with their wives today, so what better way to fritter away the hours than to make predictions about the 2006 Sun Devil football squad? With fall camps right around the corner, the national rags are out with their preview issues, the local papers are starting to think about getting into the swing of things and, what the heck - the Swami is doing it as well. Here are Swami's thoughts about 2006.

Let's get right to some of the important stuff. Sam Keller will take the first offensive snap in 2006. The Devils will beat the Wildcats, have a winning record and will be invited to play in a bowl game.

It would be nearly pointless to detail for this crowd the issues facing the Sun Devils. Everybody in America with a finger on the pulse of big-time college football knows what the Sun Devils need in order to improve on the 2005 season.

The Sun Devils need to play the 2006 season in this universe, the universe we Earthlings live in, the universe that at least as far as we know currently, has four dimensions in equal balance: offense, defense, special teams and game management. Last year's Sun Devils played in some alternate reality, some variant of superstring theory where only one dimension seemed to matter. It was as if the Devils decided that if they were supreme in that one dimension, they could overcome their lack of existence in the others. There were signs of those other dimensions from time to time, but they were few and far between and in some cases, when the other dimensions reared their heads they did so with profoundly ugly consequences. The basic Law of the Universe continued to prevail: You can't fool Mother Nature.

For 2006, there are indications that the Devils will be able to live in a more balanced solar system. The offense is nothing new (scary good) there appears to be help on the defensive side of the ball and we'd be willing to wager that the special teams will again be the boring, hardly-ever-noticed entity it should be (unless Terry Richardson is blasting through coverage for significant real estate acquisition).

Within the offensive dimension there ought to be a better balance as well. Unlike previous campaigns, at this point it appears there is no shortage of capable, talented and willing tailbacks of varying abilities available to provide a credible rushing attack and make the vertical passing game that much more terrifying to opponents.

What will all of that mean?

At the end of July, it means that the Sun Devils look to be in good position to tie up second or third in the conference and have a realistic shot at the conference championship, so long as the karma of the Sun Devil universe remains good.

We'll know more precisely what it means at the end of October. Much as with the 2005 season, the early to middle of the 2006 season will provide the answers to many of the questions this squad poses. The first quarter of the season will provide some evidence of the 2006 Devils' intentions. We think the games against a possibly tricky Nevada and a motivated and altitude acclimated Colorado will show, respectively, whether the Sun Devils are improved defensively and are capable and willing to get up for road games. The latter is especially crucial for this squad as the road games on the 2006 schedule are the major stumbling blocks to the promised lands in Pasadena and Glendale.

After Colorado, the early conference schedule is simply brutal. We think there is a good chance that the Devils will actually win a road conference game in the state of California (Cal appears overrated to us) and will fly out of Los Angeles on October 14th with one loss (to USC, who can't be underestimated). We think, however, that a 6-1 record at that point will have cost them something emotionally and physically.

The Colorado to California turnaround will have been tough and we believe that the Oregon game in between Cal and USC will be dangerous. Any number of minor miscues and the Devils could find themselves 4-3 as easily as 6-1. Since it will be early season, however, there will likely be enough gas in the tank to get through that stretch.

If 6-1 or 5-2 at that point is it, so far, so good. It has been a constant criticism of the Koetter regime that his teams seem flat on the road and often fall victim to mid-season slumps. October 15th they enter a tricky stretch of the season - tricky mentally, not physically. The Devils always seem to fall victim to a beatable team mid-to late in the season and 2006 presents the same possibilities: back-to-back road trips to the Northwest against beatable teams, a November tilt against unpredictable UCLA and the Territorial Cup game.

In the end, however, we think that the 2006 Devils will survive that stretch, largely on the strength of their talented quarterback tandem, a deeper rotation along the O- and D-lines, better tailback depth and talent and improved play by the defense and special teams. Nine wins and three losses or better is Swami's conservative prognostication for 2006.
Deep down, though as fans, we really believe 10-2 is achievable. We believed and agreed with Dirk Koetter when he said the 2005 Devils were only a few plays away from being very, very special. We believe most of those plays can be attributed to defensive and special teams failures. If there were ten such plays and the Devils clean up half of them in 2006, a top-three conference finish and the Holiday Bowl is available. If the Devils clean up three-quarters of those mistakes, we think the sky's the limit for this 2006 Sun Devil squad.

That's a dimension all Sun Devil fans would love.


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