There are cold hard facts. And grounds for optimism. There's frustration. And there's a silver lining that suggests hope and possibility.
Best of all: There are still many games ahead in which Oregon State and/or Arizona State can rewrite the season's script.
Still, the cold hard facts are the records: 2-2 for the Sun Devils and 1-2 for the Beavers. No matter that all four defeats came in competitive performances against teams ranked in the nation's top-11. The end-result is what-could-have-been-but-wasn't.
"I think it's frustrating and exiting," ASU QB Steven Threet said. "[It's frustrating] in terms of driving the field and not finishing off drives and getting points when we should. It is exciting, though, because we are very close. If we correct these mistakes then we are right there."
And the team that doesn't? It isn't right there. Though bowl requirements might be eased out of necessity by the NCAA, the Sun Devils, because only one of their two wins over FCS foes can count toward bowl eligibility, need to win five of their final eight games. Five of their final seven might be too much to expect.
So Saturday's game at Oregon State is a must-win for ASU.
As for Oregon State, it's built its reputation on an uncanny ability to overcome slow starts: They started 2-3 three straight seasons from 2006-2008 until starting 2-2 last year, but ended up winning 36 games over those four seasons. Still, past performance doesn't guarantee future results.
"You know from experience and your knowledge of the past, it can be done, but it's certainly not given to you by right of passage," coach Mike Riley said. "You have to earn it. Those teams improved. That's my message -- those teams persevered. They recognized where they needed to go, what they need to do better."
Arizona State has been pretty productive on both sides of the ball, but turnovers and penalties are killing the Sun Devils. They also haven't been very good in the red zone, which is partly due to turnovers. They had seven against Oregon.
"We can't turn it over seven times in the football game and expect to win," Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson said. "People can ask you anything about that football game but that's it right there. We were down in the red zone nine times. We turned it over three times down there. We fumbled and had two picks down there."
Oregon State's chief problem might be playing two top-five teams, but if you ignore the competition level, there are a lot of worrisome issues. For one, the Beavers can't stay on or get off the field -- they are bad on third down on both sides of the ball -- and they are struggling to get pressure on the opposing quarterback. The offense has been mostly anemic, averaging 270 yards per game game, which ranks last in the Pac-10.
There also are personnel issues: All-American receiver James Rodgers suffered a concussion against Boise State and is questionable for Saturday, while linebacker and leading tackler Dwight Roberson is out with a sprained knee.
Still, cornerback James Dockery said he and his teammates aren't worried and haven't lost confidence.
“I feel that everyone outside of the building is a lot more worried about the Beavers right now," he said. "That is kind of tough to say because we have to have wins, so we can be perceived more positively. Inside of the locker room, we still have a high level of confidence. We know that the schedule we had was going to be a challenge coming into this season."
Both teams have been hardened by tough games. Neither will be shocked by the competition level. The Beavers were projected to finish third in the preseason media poll. Both believe they are bowl teams.
In other words, these are two pretty good teams with mediocre records that are wounded and hungry. And they really need a win.
One victory might be enough to start a momentum swing toward hope and optimism.
"We have to find a way to win the football game; that's the bottom line," Erickson said. "Once you start winning games, it becomes contagious."