Pac-10 Preview | Erickson, ASU expect success
They're laughing right along with Dennis Erickson in Tempe these days. "I know two [Pac-10] fight songs already," Erickson said at Pac-10...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sun Devils at a glanceCoach: Dennis Erickson (first year at ASU), 148-65-1 in 18 college seasons.
2006: 7-6 (lost to Hawaii 41-24 in Hawaii Bowl).
The good news: Ten returning starters on offense, including third-year QB Rudy Carpenter and RB Ryan Torain, give Erickson lots of tools to refine his attack.
The bad news: The defense was porous at times a year ago and still has a few holes, especially up front where injuries during fall camp have thinned the depth.
Camp update: Despite the defense seeming the weaker of the two units, it got the upper hand often during the fall and was particularly impressive during a scrimmage last week that left Erickson frustrated with an offense prone to sloppiness. ... Erickson's hiring has appeared to revive interest in the program — 5,200 showed up for the scrimmage.
Bottom line: The addition of Erickson's strategic mind and a veteran offense figure to mean ASU will be able to score on everyone. If the defense finds a few answers, the Sun Devils could be a top-25 contender.
They're laughing right along with Dennis Erickson in Tempe these days.
"I know two [Pac-10] fight songs already," Erickson said at Pac-10 media day. "I'm going to learn my third one."
It's the kind of self-deprecating nod to his vagabond coaching history that has become standard fare for an Erickson public appearance of late.
"Hey, it's there," he says, referring to his history of nine head-coaching jobs in the last 25 years, including stints with the Seahawks, Washington State and Oregon State. "You may as well address it. I'm just very fortunate to get a chance to get back in the Pac-10 and anxious to take advantage of it."
And Erickson might just be able to keep them smiling deep into the fall as the Sun Devils appear to have the pieces in place to emerge as a darkhorse in the Pac-10 this season.
Actually, ASU has been something of a contender the last few years, having made it to bowl games each of the last three seasons for the second time in school history.
The only problem for former coach Dirk Koetter was that those postseason appearances came in the Hawaii, Insight and Sun bowls, and followed seasons in which the Sun Devils always seemed to come up short in prime time.
Arizona State was 2-19 against ranked teams in Koetter's six seasons as coach and 0-12 against Pac-10 teams in California, symbolic of the team's propensity to fold when the pressure was on.
But Erickson knows all about big games, having won two national titles at Miami and a Fiesta Bowl at Oregon State on the same Sun Devil Stadium field he now calls home.
That pedigree and his reputation for the quick fix has the veterans at ASU excited.
"The first day he walked in it was like 'Wow, this is the guy who is going to turn this program around and make it a top-echelon team,' " said senior center Mike Pollak. "When he came in and he was ready to win right away and got things going the way he wanted to do it, it really got all the older guys on the team on board."
This has all the makings of another quick turnaround.
The Sun Devils return 16 position starters from 2006, including 10 on an offense that averaged almost 27 points despite an off year from quarterback Rudy Carpenter. Among the returnees are all five offensive linemen — four are seniors — and running back Ryan Torain, who gained 1,229 yards last season. His backup, Keegan Herring, also returns after rushing for 549 yards last season.
"One thing I know we can do is run, and if you can run the football, you have a chance against anybody," Erickson said.
It would surprise few if Erickson's tutelage also resulted in a turnaround for Carpenter, who led the nation in passing efficiency as a freshman in 2005 but had trouble connecting at times last year. He was named the starter after a messy battle with Sam Keller, who ended up transferring to Nebraska.
Still, he threw for 23 touchdowns, third most in the conference, and Pollak said the new coaching staff and being a year older have already paid dividends for Carpenter.
"You could just tell he was way more relaxed at practice this spring," Pollak said.
The defense is a little more of an issue, with just six starters back, though there is some proven talent on hand, most notably senior safety Josh Barrett, considered one of the best in the country at his position.
Arizona State's schedule features eight home games, including the first four. That foursome includes all three nonconference games against San Jose State, Colorado and San Diego State, which could get the Sun Devils off to a hot start, and even further cement Erickson's stature among ASU fans.
And Erickson insists that this time, he's in it for the long haul.
Asked at media day if he thinks ASU can compete with the best in the nation, Erickson said "without question, or I wouldn't have taken the job. It's going to get done."
|All times Pacific|
|Sept. 1||San Jose St.||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 8||Colorado||7:15 p.m.|
|Sept. 15||San Diego St.||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 22||Oregon St.||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 29||at Stanford||TBA|
|Oct. 6||at Washington St.||TBA|
|Oct. 27||California||7 p.m.|
|Nov. 3||at Oregon||3:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 10||at UCLA||TBA|
|Nov. 22||USC||5 p.m.|
|Dec. 1||Arizona||5 p.m.|
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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